Thinking about it later in life, Jim realized that his hearing loss probably started when he was a teen or young adult. It might have been the rock concerts he attended, the fireworks he set off, the motorcycle he rode, or all of these (and other) high-noise activities. Jim ignored his hearing loss— and now he’s paying the price through an increased risk for health conditions like: dementia, depression and injury-causing falls.
What if Jim could have stopped hearing loss in its tracks when he was a teen or young adult? He likely would have enjoyed a better quality of life and a healthier future. He also could have avoided the need for hearing aids and hearing health care services.
Jim isn’t alone. In fact, at least 10 million, and perhaps as many as 40 million, U.S. adults show signs of hearing loss due to exposure to loud noise, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD).
The good news is, noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is almost entirely preventable by following simple noise-avoidance tactics and using common hearing protection products. But here’s what many people don’t realize: Hearing loss prevention needs to start early in life.
Many experts believe that loud music may be one of the biggest threats to young ears. Recent research published in the International Journal of Scientific Research found that “millions of adolescents and young adults are potentially at risk of permanent hearing loss through listening to their favorite music.” The study focused on the use of headphones for listening to music stored on MP3 players and cell phones.
Five hundred students were divided into four groups, ranging from those who listened to music with headphones for at least two hours per day (Group A) to those who avoided the use of headphones altogether (Group D). Researchers found that 16% of the students in Group A had high-frequency hearing loss, compared to no signs of hearing loss in Group D participants.
Without realizing the risks involved, young listeners often choose high volume levels that can temporarily or permanently damage their hearing, explained the research article.
“The private and continual blaring of music through earbuds creates a personal buffer that drowns out the outside world and relieves stress by bringing beats so close that one can feel the vibrations. This intense connection with music, however, can be fatal to hair cells in the ears and lead to hearing loss.”
Listening to just five minutes of music at maximum volume on a daily basis is enough to damage hearing over time. Prolonged periods of listening at lower volume levels may also result in hearing loss.
Safe Listening Guidelines
Given the popularity of earbuds — and the danger that comes with them — consider the following guidelines for safe music listening:
- Do not exceed 60% of maximum volume when listening through headphones. (iPhones and other devices include a setting for maximum allowable volume.)
- Follow the (“60/60” rule) . At 60% of volume, limit headphone use to 60 minutes per day
- Use larger headphones that rest over the ear openings instead of earphones or earbuds that are placed directly in the ears.
- Invest in higher quality devices that block out background noise; this helps moderate listening levels in noisier places.
For more information about NIHL and prevention strategies, visit NIDCD.
If you think you or your family member or friend may have hearing loss. Take our online hearing quiz to find out if you should get further testing.