Teenagers are losing their hearing in greater numbers: One in five now has some hearing loss, a 31 percent rise from a decade ago, according to a new study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That means 6.5 million teens now have hearing loss. Much of that hearing loss was slight, but the trend is troubling. Though researchers don't know the cause, it's easy to conclude that the popularity of MP3 players and other personal music players might be a major contributing factor.
We tend to think of hearing loss as an old person's problem, but hearing loss due to exposure to loud sounds is different than age-related loss and affects all age groups. Many teens, even some adults, don't realize that hearing loss from excessive volumes—be it from street noise, live music or earbuds—is permanent. "Noise is pollution," says Pam Mason, a certified audiologist at the American Speech Language Hearing Association who works with rock musicians to protect their hearing. "Children don't often think that by putting themselves in a noisy environment, they're putting their hearing in danger."
So what can parents do to encourage children to protect their hearing without having to yank the iPod? The American Speech Language Hearing Association has launched "Listen to Your Buds," an effort aimed at teaching parents and children about the risk of long-term hearing loss caused by loud music. Here are three simple ways to make portable music players less risky:
- If you can hear your teen's MP3 player from three feet away, it's too loud. Turn down the volume to prevent hearing damage.
- Many personal music players don't have volume control indicators. An easy way to set a safe listening level is to crank it up all the way, then back to halfway.
- Take "listening breaks" from loud music or other sources of loud noise to give ears a chance to recover.
Adults aren't great at protecting their hearing, either; how many guys in your neighborhood wear ear protection when mowing the lawn or weed-whacking? But this latest news presents a good opportunity to get teens dialed into good hearing protective habits, just as we teach them to brush, floss and wear sunglasses.