As the parent of two teenaged children, I could never imagine allowing them to do something as potentially dangerous as playing with a loaded gun while doing their homework, sitting in the backseat of my car or while playing in the backyard. Nor could I imagine handing them illegal drugs and sending them off to play with their friends. Could you do this? Then why are so many parents allowing their children to wear earbuds or headphones and listen to their music so loud that they incur irreversible noise-induced haring loss? Maybe they don’t understand the effect that noise or earbuds has on their hearing. Noise-induced hearing loss is a rapidly growing effect, seen on children as young as six years old!
To fully understand the repercussion that noise and earbuds have on your hearing, it is vital to first understand how your ears work. Within each of our ears we have, among many parts, an eardrum and a cochlea. Each time a sound is made, sound waves travel throughout the air. Once the sound waves enter your ear they first hit your ear drum. Vibrations are then sent to three small bones within your ear – the hammer, the anvil and, lastly, the stirrup. Once the vibrations have been sent to the stirrup, they are received by the cochlea, a snail-shaped cavity. The cochlea is home to thousands of nerve endings called cilia which receive the vibrations and send the sound messages to your brain. Your brain translates the sound and tells you what you are listening to.
Like me, you probably learned about this process in middle school and forgot all about all of the intricate details. Today, the most important thing you can remember about this process is the fragile state of the cilia, which are tiny hairs that are very sensitive to loud noise. Prolonged exposure to loud sound can actually injure or kill your cilia. Once damaged or killed by loud sound, the cilia are unable to heal or grow back and as a result your hearing is permanently damaged.
Sound is measured in units called decibels. The lowest level of sound is zero decibels, which is complete silence. A whisper is around 30 decibels, a refrigerator hums at 40, typical conversation is held at 60, a chain saw supplies 100 decibels of sound, a personal MP3 player maxes out at 105 and an ambulance siren sends warnings at 120. Once noise reaches 85 decibels of sound for lengthened amount of time has been found to be the cause of gradual hearing loss for many kids and adults. When you choose to listen to sound, unprotected, at 100 decibels for more than 15 minutes, you are permanently damaging and killing cilia and subjecting yourself to noise-induced hearing loss. Don’t forget that most personal stereo systems (MP3 players) max out at 105 decibels and when people listen to something for more than one minute at 110 decibels, they are in danger of permanent hearing loss.
Think how much you can do to your hearing if you stick in your earbuds and blast your music at 90 decibels during your commute to school or work. The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion reports that nearly 12.5 percent of children ages 6-19 within the United States have damaged hearing or permanent hearing loss because of the amount of time they spend listening to loud music. That’s close to 5.2 million children and teens with permanently damaged hearing. They have also found that 17 percent of adults ages 20-69 within the United States have suffered the same effects due to the volume of music. That’s roughly 26 million adults.
We are fortunate to have so many modern conveniences, including earnbuds, at our disposal. Earbuds aer a convenient way to listen to music for several reasons: they block out more noise than most headphones, they come with several rubber eartips to provide a custom fit for your ear, they aren’t as big or bulky as headphones and you don’t have to worry about someone knocking them off the top of your head. Earbuds truly are more convenient in many ways; however it is important to pay attention to the facts and dangers of using earbuds improperly. If you like engaging in conversation or listening to headphones, a car stereo, or music player at your home, watch the volume and protect yourself from noise-induced hearing loss.