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With the introduction of the Sony Walkman in 1983 a whole new generation became obsessed with listening to media in a personal and portable way. Personal listening devices have continued to rise in popularity and have become a staple in culture, evolving from tape cassette players, to CDs and into Mp3 streaming online and directly into our ear. They allow us to listen to what we love in private and on the go. Unfortunately, the use of these devices come with dangerous side effects for the ears of a younger generation. Previously thought of as a condition affecting the elderly, more and more people 18-55 suffer from hearing loss than ever before. 

The Noise of Earbuds

Headphones and earbuds fit directly next to or inside the ear canal, delivering decibels as high as 110 dB. Between 1994 and 2005, with the rise of the iPod, the use of earbuds increased by 75%.  It is estimated half of the people who use them set their volume at unsafe levels. 

Noise Induced Hearing Loss

To understand the ramifications of this, it’s important to understand the dangers of noise induced hearing loss. Any sound over 85 decibels can start to damage the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, however at this low level it takes years of consistent exposure to develop hearing loss. However, as the decibels rise, the time it takes for hearing damage to incur, lessens. At the average maximum listening level for earbuds, of 110 dB it can take less than a minute for permanent hearing loss to occur. Approximately 20% of teenagers have measurable hearing loss in one or both ears. Due to the endless streaming possibilities of music and media, many people unknowingly listen at dangerous decibels for hours on end. This is a major reason why a younger generation is currently dealing with hearing loss that requires treatment.

Temporary Threshold Shift

When someone experiences exposure to a very loud sound, such as close proximity to an explosion, it can cause what is known as a temporary threshold shift. This is defined as a temporary shift in the auditory threshold. It is common for people to experience a ringing of the ears, like tinnitus and reduced hearing and the perception of muffled sound. This can last a day or two but eventually most hearing will return. However, hearing loss is permanent, and any hearing loss incurred by experiencing a temporary threshold shift will create irreversible hearing. You may not even notice it at first as hearing loss is often gradual. Many don’t realize there is a serious problem until they struggle to hear even in the most ideal of listening situations. However, this does not mean that the impact of hearing loss is not affecting you. While a loud sound such as an explosion can cause this phenomenon attending a loud concert, sports event or listening to earbuds very loudly for an extended amount of time can equally create these circumstances.

The Impact on a New Generation

Hearing loss is not just an ear issue but a communication issue. For a younger generation the impact is just as severe as it is for seniors. A strain on relationships due to constant miscommunication, self-isolation, listening fatigue, cognitive decline, chronic depression and a higher risk of accidents makes listening to headphones too loud, more dangerous than most would suspect.

The Rule of 6

Earbuds and headphones are not going anywhere despite the risk they pose. IF you can learn and educate others on safe ways to listen to personal listening devices a lot of permanent damage can be avoided. When listening to your favorite music remember the rule of 6, meaning, do not turn up the volume on your listening device past 60% of its volume’s potential. In addition, taking breaks from listening every hour can reduce the wear on your ears.

Don’t Turn Music Up, Turn Noise Down

In this increasingly noisy world, it is all too tempting to use headphones and earbuds as a way to drown out competing noise, on public transportation or in a busy café. However, this forces us to turn up our personal listening devices to unsafe listening levels. Try noise canceling headphones to cancel out noise instead of turning up. To find out more about how you can listen safely, make an appointment to have your hearing tested and find out what options are available to you.

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