Lets Talk About Noise Induced Hearing Loss

by Ester Hilmarsdottir

Lets Talk About Noise Induced Hearing Loss

Ever wonder what effects loud noises can have on your hearing? How about your young ones? Recent studies show an alarming increase in hearing loss in youngsters. Evidence suggests that loud music along with increased use of music devices with headphones may be responsible (1). Hearing loss is a common sensory disorder, affecting tens of millions of individuals of all ages in the United States and around the world (5) and it’s a trend that, unfortunately, seems to be growing. The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), conducted between 1988 and 1994, demonstrated that 14.9% of US children aged 6 to 19 years had low frequency or high frequency hearing loss in at least 1 ear (9) and 12.5% had audiometric evidence of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) (10). Another survey suggests that, between 1994 and 2006, the prevalence of hearing loss among teenagers (1219 years old) rose from 3.5% to 5.3% (20) and yet another study indicates that the number of individuals listening to music through headphones increased by 75% between 1990 and 2005 (21). According to the Journal of Pediatrics, 12.5 percent of kids between the ages of 6 and 19 suffer from loss of hearing as a result of using ear phones/buds turned to a high volume (56). With the increased availability and use of personal audio devices for listening to music and the risky behaviour pattern of their use at high volume over long periods (22-24), the threat of hearing loss due to recreational exposure to noise is a real one. 

 
The effects of noise are often underestimated because the damage takes place gradually, and there are no externally visible changes such as bruising or bleeding. Therefore, people have traditionally not appreciated the serious impact of NIHL until it’s too late. It develops so gradually that people may lose a significant amount of hearing, before becoming aware of its presence (48, 54). There are two types of sensory cells within the ear: inner and outer hair cells. The inner hair cells generate signals that are sent to the brain, while the outer hair cells act as amplifiers (29). It is important to note that a fixed number of these sensory cells is present at birth: these sensory cells do not regenerate once they have been damaged (30). So, when a hair cell dies, it is gone for good and there is no medical or surgical cure (30, 31, 32, 48). However, once hearing loss begins, its progression can be halted by avoiding further exposure to loud sounds (29).

 

Recreational devices such as personal music players and video game consoles that emit sounds are commonly operated at unsafe volumes (1, 16, 17). The World Health Organization estimates that 1.1 billion young people worldwide could be at risk of hearing loss due to unsafe listening practices. Nearly half of all teenagers and young adults (12-35 years old) in middle- and high-income countries are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from the use of personal audio devices. To reduce the risk of NIHL it’s important to turn down the volume of music systems, use hearing protection devices or reduce loud sounds to a safe level (52, 53). Listening to portable media devices at high volume levels (above 85 decibels) for long periods of time can cause irreversible damage (55). When listening to a personal music system with stock earphones at a maximum volume, the sound generated can reach a level of over 100 dB, loud enough to begin causing permanent damage after just 15 minutes per day (36). Loud explosions (that peak for a few milliseconds at levels greater than 130-140 dB) may cause immediate hearing loss. More often, however, hearing loss is caused by repeated exposure to noise above 85 dB over long periods (48). Some devices exist which limit the volume that can be output by the MP3 player, making them child-proof (48). It’s of utmost importance to protect the ears of children who are too young to protect their own. Therefore onanoff created BuddyPhones, designed especially for children with safety in mind. Just as construction workers protect their ears with earplugs, BuddyPhones protect little music-lovers. The nifty headphones are designed with a built-in, volume-limiting circuitry that caps the sound automatically at 85 decibels, which is the level recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and many American Health Institutions for kids. Not only are they designed to keep kids safe, but also to give parents a piece of mind, not having to constantly monitor the volume.

 



It’s proven that loud sound exposure from listening to music in adolescence may significantly contribute to communication difficulties in later life. Adolescent hearing loss is common (10, 11, 13, 14) and can have important educational and social implications (15). Hearing plays an essential role in communication, speech and language development, and learning. Even a small amount of hearing loss can have profound, negative effects on speech, language comprehension, communication, classroom learning, and social development. Studies indicate that without proper intervention, children with mild to moderate hearing loss, on average, do not perform as well in school as children with no hearing loss. This gap in academic achievement widens as students progress through school (49, 50). In school-aged children, even slight hearing loss (>15-24 dB) can create a need for speech therapy, auditory training, and special accommodations (6). Mild hearing loss in young children can impair speech and language development and lead to decreased educational achievement and impaired social-emotional development (7, 8). In young children, it impairs language acquisition (25-28), learning disabilities, anxiety and attention-seeking behaviours are also common in children exposed to loud sounds. The impact of chronic noise exposure in children is reflected in lowered academic performance and outcomes as well as reduced motivation and concentration (1).

 

 

Minimizing loud noises is proven to be calming for children with autism, and therefore BuddyPhones is also a viable choice for children with sensitive hearing and attention deficits. BuddyPhones are designed to be used by children of all ages in different situations, anytime, anywhere, and make sure their hearing is protected. According to the WHO most countries of the world still have no legislation to control recreational noise exposure, either for recreational venues or with respect to the maximum output levels of personal audio devices. Therefore, it is up to parents, teachers and guardians to play an active role in educating children about safe listening and monitoring their exposure to loud noise; they also need to be role models of safe listening for their children (1, 33-41). BuddyPhones is a great tool to teach kids about responsible listening and it’s a safe solution that provides protection for their delicate eardrums and hearing. Children and adolescents must be educated about the possible dangers of exposure to loud sounds from the misuse of personal audio devices and encouraged to develop safe listening habits. (1, 33, 35, 36, 39, 41-47). Fortunately, awareness is growing of the risk associated with noise exposure as a contributing factor to hearing loss, and it’s up us to stay informed, raise the issue, educate friends, family, and most importantly, to keep our little ones safe.

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                                                                                                      Ester Hilmarsdottir
                                                                                                      Ester Hilmarsdottir

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