Headphone-Induced Hearing Loss On The Rise

About 1 in 20 US adolescents has hearing loss. And it’s mostly self-induced. Today’s kids have no idea that the loud music they’re blasting into their ears is causing lasting damage. As much as 20% of high school students have permanent ringing in their ears (Tinnitus). While baby boomers talk about loud rock concerts destroying their hearing; experts believe that hearing loss will be more prevalent among the MP3 generation.

One common misconception about headphones is that ear buds are more damaging because they are located closer to the ear and drive the sound deeper into your ear. This theory is totally unfounded. Regardless of whether you use ear buds or expensive headphones, if you expose your ears to loud music on an ongoing basis, it will affect your long-term hearing.

What causes hearing loss is the constant exposure to high volumes over time. Think of it like erosion. Just as waves hitting the shore will eventually erode away the land, loud noises gradually erode the hair fibers within the ear; the hair fibers that are there to protect your hearing.

The impact of noise-induced hearing loss is greater the younger the child is. The smaller the ear, the louder the sound resonates within it and the more damaging it can be. That’s why it’s always a good idea to cover your children’s ears when watching fireworks, for example.

How loud is too loud? If you can hear your child’s music when they’re using headphones, it’s too loud. As a general rule of thumb, the volume should never be turned up higher than 50%. It takes about 75 minutes of straight headphone usage at 120 decibels to cause actual hearing loss, says James Foy, MD. France and other European countries have created laws that limit the volume of iPods and other devices to 100 decibels. There are also devices on the market, such as the Kid's Ear Saver, that claim to reduce the sound output of listening devices by more than 15 decibels.

The truth is that kids like to listen to loud music and there is little awareness among them that they are damaging their hearing. Out of 10,000 people who responded to a recent survey posted on the MTV web site, only 8% considered hearing loss "a very big problem."