The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a campaign to bring awareness to a lurking danger for our youth. Instances of hearing loss are appearing in people younger and younger throughout the world. Experts are concerned about the rising volumes of cinemas, concerts, sporting events and earbuds connected to personal devices.
The international advocacy and research organization estimates that a billion youths may be at risk of hearing loss because of their dangerous listening habits. We know that currently, more than 43 million people, aged 12-35, have disabling hearing loss. Of particular note is that nearly 50% of young people are thought to be exposed to dangerous sound levels from their personal devices.
How noise damages hearing
Our ears evolved to hear at much quieter levels of sound than we are assaulted with daily in our modern world. Since the industrial revolution, machines and amplified sounds have dramatically increased the decibels, which is the measurement of sound, in everyday scenarios like lawn care, commuting, and even walks around the neighborhood if there is street construction happening.
But, these assaults of sound are not without consequence. Our ears are just one part of a sophisticated delivery system that we call hearing. Sound is collected by the ears and turned into sound information when received by the fine, delicate cells of the inner ear. From there, this sound information is transmitted to the brain via the auditory nerve. In the brain, sound is translated within processing centers into language, comprehension and sound.
But those delicate cells of the inner ear are also non-regenerative. That means that they do not repair themselves after declining or dying, unlike so many other cells within our body. The number of inner ear cells we are born with are our stockpile for life. When they are damaged, we begin to lose our ability to hear fully. This usually starts with a hearing loss specific to high frequencies, but can be progressive over time.
Why kids are at risk
Kids are adopting personal devices, like iphones, younger than ever and at rising rates. When you put that into account and consider that what damages hearing most explicitly is high volume for long durations. Then, think about the last time you saw your kids without their ear buds in. Now do you see where the concern lies?
We know that volumes under 80 decibels are manageable for our ears, even for long durations. Human conversation clocks in at about 60 decibels, for reference. But personal devices can give off volumes as high as 110 decibels. And that’s concerning, because experts caution against exposing ears to more than 85 decibels for extended periods of time. They warn that more than 15 minutes of noise over 100 decibels can cause immediate damage.
Other recreational activities for children and young people that carry the risk of too-loud noise include rock concerts (120 decibels), movie theaters (varying, up to 105 decibels) and sporting events (varying, 80-100 decibels).
Ways to monitor kids volumes
There are apps you can download on your phone that can accurately measure the decibels in your noise environments. That might be a handy tool to employ if you are curious about the noise levels in your local theater, for instance.
Your children’s devices may have options to limit volume directly built into them. If they don’t, you can download third-party apps that give you the same control over how loud they can crank them up.
Teach kids about hearing health
Noise-induced hearing loss is not reversible, though it can be treated. Get a jump start on speaking to your kids about reasonable volumes and what dangerous noise can do to their hearing health. Emphasize the importance of caring for your ears just as much as you do the rest of your body. With conversation and education, you can instill responsible listening habits that last a lifetime.
Don’t forget that the most powerful message you can send to your kids is through your own modeling. Show them that healthy listening behaviors are important by making sure that your own habits are safe. Wear hearing protection in too loud situations and invest in some for your little ones, too.