American Osteopathic Association

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Hearing Loss and Headphones - Is Anyone Listening?

headphones.jpgAs a parent, do you often find yourself asking your teenagers to remove their headphones so you can speak to them? You may want to consider doing it even more often. Today, 1 in 5 teens has some form of hearing loss - a rate about 30% higher than it was in the 1980s and 1990s - which many experts believe is due, in part, to the increased use of headphones. James E. Foy, DO, an osteopathic pediatrician from Vallejo, Calif., explains what you can do to minimize your child’s risk of hearing loss.

"Listening through headphones at a high volume for extended periods of time can result in lifelong hearing loss for children and teens," says Dr. Foy. "Even a mild hearing loss due to excessive noise could lead to developmental delays in speech and language."

So, how loud is too loud?

"Most MP3 players today can produce sounds up to 120 decibels, equivalent to a sound level at a rock concert. At that level, hearing loss can occur after only about an hour and 15 minutes," warns Dr. Foy.

"I stress to my patients and the parents of my patients that if you can’t hear anything going on around you when listening to headphones, the decibel level is too high," he says.

Dr. Foy advises that people should not exceed 60% of maximum volume when listening through headphones.

Duration of exposure to noise is also a major factor. How long is too long?

"As a rule of thumb, you should only use MP3 devices at levels up to 60% of maximum volume for a total of 60 minutes a day," says Dr. Foy. "The louder the volume, the shorter your duration should be. At maximum volume, you should listen for only about five minutes a day."

What are the signs of hearing loss?

"The type of hearing loss due to headphone use is typically gradual, cumulative and without obvious warning signs," explains Dr. Foy. "A hearing test and a medical examination are the only way to truly diagnose hearing damage."

However, if you or your child experiences any of the following symptoms, Dr. Foy recommends a visit to a physician immediately.

  • Ringing, roaring, hissing or buzzing in the ear
  • Difficulty understanding speech in noisy places or places with poor acoustics
  • Muffled sounds and a feeling that your ear is plugged
  • Listening to the TV or radio at a higher volume than in the past

What is the treatment for hearing loss?

"Unfortunately, the type of hearing loss caused by over exposure to very loud noise is irreversible, making prevention paramount," says Dr. Foy. "Hearing aids and implants can help in amplifying sounds and making it easier to hear, but they are merely compensating for the damaged or nonworking parts of the ear."

How can I prevent hearing loss?

"First and foremost, follow the 60/60 rule in regards to percentage of maximum volume and duration of time," says Dr. Foy. Additionally, he suggests using older style, larger headphones that rest over the ear opening instead of earphones that are placed directly in your ear. "Whether using headphones or earphones, moderation is key," says Dr. Foy. "Avoiding excessive use of listening devices altogether will go a long way in preventing hearing loss."

 

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