Exposure to loud noise is one of the leading causes of hearing loss

Statistics show 1 in 5 adolescents currently suffer some degree of hearing loss. Even mild hearing loss can affect learning and communication skills. 

Although teens may be able to hear soft sounds like whispering, they may not be able to understand it at first because of the damage to their inner ear. A national poll found nearly two-thirds of parents have never talked to their children about the risk of noise-induced hearing loss. 

It may already be affecting adolescents. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) occurs when excessive noise damages the delicate hair cells in the inner ear. These cells send sound signals to the brain for interpretation and are vital in the hearing process. While the damage is preventable, it is unfortunately irreversible and can eventually cause hearing loss. 

Sound is measured in decibels (dB). Prolonged exposure to sounds over 85dB has shown to cause (NIHL). To put it into perspective, an average conversation resonates at 60dB, a lawnmower is 90dB, and personal music device at full volume is equal to the same loudness as a motorcycle engine—100dB. Even if played at 70% of its volume, an mp3 player or smartphone will play music at nearly 85dB when used with headphones.

Merely thirty minutes of listening at this volume can cause irreversible damage to a teen’s hearing.

One way to observe excessive noise exposure is to pay attention to how teens listen to their music. If you can hear the music coming from your teenager’s earphones, then the volume is too loud. Ask that the volume be lowered and explain the risks respectfully. Additionally, when adolescents have the sound-level turned too high, generally, it is because they are trying to cancel any background noise.

Many headphone brands on the market advertise background noise cancellation. This way, they can enjoy their music without turning the volume to levels that may but their hearing at risk. There are also volume-limiting headphones available that do not let sound exceed 85dB. 

Noise-induced hearing loss is entirely preventable. However, because of the assumption of hearing loss being a geriatric condition, many don’t consider their youth to be at risk. It is a good idea to encourage children to keep headphone volume at a safe volume. Lastly, you may consider scheduling an appointment with the teen’s doctor or an audiologist for a baseline hearing test. 

The cultural importance of hearing

Unfortunately, hearing is not only an important means of communication; it is also filled with cultural importance. Not being able to hear causes teens to miss many social cues that other, hearing, teens rely on.

For example, they may miss the physical aspects of voice, different dialects, varying speech registers (the ways we speak in informal versus formal situations, or at work versus at home), and the internal or emotional states of the people around them. These are all crucial pieces of cultural information to which the deaf and hard of hearing do not have access.

Salem Audiology Clinic does diagnostic evaluations for hearing loss in people of all ages. To schedule an appointment with an audiologist, please call us at (503) 588-1039.

Sources: The Hearing Review, BetterHearing.org, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary