More Teenagers Than Ever Are Suffering Permanent Hearing Damage And Hearing Loss

noisy-damaging-environments1The noisy world today is easily tuned out as the headphone generation plugs in, often times morning to night.

“I listen to music every day, anything I’m doing,” said Daniela Garcia, an Edina High School senior.

Osseo High School senior Emma Vervair agrees, estimating during the school year she wears headphones up to six or seven hours a day and even falls asleep listening to audiobooks.

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ear-defense-packaging-50-percentKnowing the modern headphone habits of teenagers, Starkey Hearing Technologies launched a new campaign aimed towards young people called “Listen Carefully” to quiet what it calls a new epidemic.

“We are seeing in the MP3 world today is almost 20 percent of kids and teenagers have measurable hearing loss today, for preventable reasons,” said Dr. Dave Fabry, PhD, Starkey Vice President of Audiology.

Dr. Fabry admits you wouldn’t think the country’s largest manufacturer of hearing aids would focus on prevention, but he calls hearing loss a cradle to grave affliction affecting 10 percent of the world’s population.

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Starkey research finds teen hearing loss has increased 30 percent in the past decade, an irreversible but preventable affliction.

tinnitus-1“The challenge is the ear really doesn’t care whether it’s noise or music. All the ear cares about is the intensity of the exposure, intensity of the sound, and the duration of the exposure,” said Dr. Fabry.

He tests the headphone levels Garcia and Vervair frequently listen to with equipment that measures the intensity of sound in ear canal, in decibels.

Dr. Fabry hopes to find a safe level, 90 decibels, which can be listened to eight hours a day without permanent damage to hearing.

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Garcia listened to a Justin Timberlake song peaking at 95 decibels, which was louder than recommended.

Dr. Fabry says sound at 93 decibels can only be listened to for four hours, 96 decibels can be listened to for two hours, and 99 decibels for one hour. For comparison, 100 decibels is similar to listening to a lawnmower, which is only considered safe for one hour before possible hearing damage.

“My general rule of thumb was if you stood at arm’s length away and your child was listening on MP3 player and you could identify the song they were listening to, it was probably too loud,” said Dr. Fabry.

Dr. Fabry says safe listening levels can depend on the type of music or style of headphones when you consider the rising popularity of custom earbuds, or the Beats brand headphones.

“They isolate the sound really well, so you can crank the volume up on these a long ways and no one would know what you are listening to. My old rule of thumb went out the window,” said Dr. Fabry.

So, as Garcia swaps Apple headphones for Beats, her volume level rises to 96 or 97 decibels, which Dr. Fabry says brings twice the risk.

“You are safe for two hours before potentially causing permanent damage,” he says.

“I’ve never looked at it at that standpoint, so I’m glad I’m more aware now,” said Garcia.

Prevention can be as easy as buying acoustic limiting headphones; many come in styles for kids or by changing volume settings on your phone. On an iPhone, you can go to settings, scroll to music and then volume limit, where you can set a volume output.

Dr. Fabry says lock in an acceptable level, with the headphones you most often use, which is key.

Emma Vervair tests out her beloved Bluetooth headphones while listening to one of her favorite bands, 21 Pilots.

“You see, it’s just cresting at 90 decibels so you are right on the fringe and could listen to this level eight hours a day,” Dr. Fabry told her.

Just in case, she also limits the volume on her Android phone. For both teens a simple reminder speaks volumes, and awareness alone brings resounding change.

“It was never even in the back of my mind. And now that I listen to music all the time, it will be in the back of my mind. I think maybe I should turn it down a notch,” said Garcia.

Lindsey Seavert

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