Teens and Music: Tuned in, Turned on - Blown Out

FRESNO, Calif.

Alexa Curhan loves to blast her tunes, but after learning those earphones may lead to hearing loss, she changed her tune.

"This is how loud I listen to it now," Alexa Curhan told Ivanhoe.

A new study shows one out of five teens has slight hearing loss, while one out of twenty has at least mild hearing loss. That's a 30 percent increase in the past 15 years.

"There is actually a measurable difference in how kids do when they have even a slight hearing loss, compared to kids who don't," Josef Shargorodsky M.D., MPF, an otolaryngologist at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, in Boston, said.

Exposure to noise like busy streets can damage hearing, but doctors say personal music players cause more damage.

"The current devices can play music longer on the same battery, [and] it can also, with ear buds, get more sound into the ear, so it is certainly more dangerous today than it might have been twenty years ago," Dr. Shargorodsky explained.

Loud noise destroys tiny hair cells in your ear that route sound waves to your brain.

"I noticed that I never really paid attention to how loud I was listening to my iPod on a daily basis," Curhan said.

Be safe, set your music player to about 60 percent of its peak volume; don't listen for more than 60 minutes a day and stay away from music louder than 85 decibels, where hearing loss occurs. Alexa uses a computer program to download tunes at a safe level.

"By her getting the message herself, and turning it down, I'm hoping her younger sister will follow her," Sharon Curhan, Alexa's mother, said.

Doctors say early hearing loss can lead to faster deterioration as kids get older. For simple perspective, the sound of rustling leaves registers at about zero decibels. A standard conversation with a co-worker clocks in at about 60 decibels. Meanwhile, your hairdryer packs a 90 decibel punch, meaning too much use can lead to hearing loss.

Josef Shargorodsky, MD
Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary
(617) 523-7900

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