This past week my family and I visited the University of Wisconsin, Madison. As we walked up Bascom Hill I was amazed at how many of the college students who were wearing headphones and blasting their music! With MP3 players and music streaming on phones, kids never have their favorite tunes more than a cord away. But experts warn that earbuds can pose a greater danger. Wearing earbuds can lead to problems if the user has the music turned up too loud or is inattentive while wearing the headpieces.
The number of people injured while wearing earbuds has tripled since 2004, according to a recent study in “Injury Prevention” journal. In 2010-2011, a total of 47 pedestrians were injured when they did not hear a car or train as a result of listening to music through earbuds. This is a big increase from six years earlier when only 15 such incidents were noted. The sound from headphones can mask outside noise, making it difficult to hear traffic or warning horn that might have saved a life.
Children and teens must understand the importance of being attentive to the traffic and vehicles around them, as they walk to school or around the neighborhood. Although kids may assume they will be watchful enough to make up for their diminished hearing, parents should explain that we need all of our senses to be careful and protect ourselves.
Listening to music through headphones comes with another set of dangers. Because earbuds are designed to provide the clearest possible sound, they sit very close to the eardrum. Listening to music too loud through earbuds can cause hearing problems, particularly in children.
Chain saws and motorcycles create about 100 decibels of sound – a level that can damage hearing after less than half of an hour. An MP3 player at 70 percent of its top volume is about 85 decibels. This level of sound for long periods of time can put listeners in real danger of permanent hearing loss.
For teens, it can be difficult to understand the seriousness of hearing loss years away versus the fun of listening to loud music. That’s why Born suggests parents check up on kids to ensure that they are listening to music at safe levels. To help parents gage how loud their children are listening to music through earbuds, Born suggests a simple test.
“If other people can hear your music when you have earbuds in, that’s too loud,” Born said. “Kids who are listening to earbuds at a safe and comfortable level should be able to hear conversations going on around them.
A concern with noise-induced hearing loss is that it happens so gradually that many people don’t realize that they have a problem until it’s too late. Signs that a child might have a hearing loss include ringing, buzzing or roaring in the ears after hearing a loud noise and muffling or distortion of sounds.
It is important to avoid the problem in the first place and to take action at the first signs of a problem. Many famous musicians, such as Phil Collins and Roger Daltry, have said they regret losing their hearing. Recent reports show that classical musicians are at risk as well: Trumpeters playing pieces such as Mahler’s “Ninth Symphony” can reach very loud volumes that could induce deafness.
Parents who suspect their children are listening to their music too loud should take action today. If you wait too long or don’t want to intervene, we at The Hearing Professionals would be happy to do so on your behalf. But at that point, we most likely will be selling them a hearing aid.