A Silent Epidemic. Teen and Young Adult Hearing Loss

loud rock concert hearing loss

Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of both Hearing Health Foundation and Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing loss. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter

Noise Induced Hearing Loss is 100% Preventable

Are your children always listening to music on their headphones? Do your young adults go to concerts or attend parties in loud venues? Or maybe they enjoy live sporting events or going to movies. If any of these are true, they could be damaging their hearing.

This is a serious problem as the incidence of hearing loss among teens is on the rise. A research study published in The Journal of American Medical Association in 2010 found that 1 in 5 teens had some type of hearing loss. This was significantly above the 1 in 7 teens with hearing loss measured 10 years earlier. The heavy use of earbuds for listening to music is an obvious culprit, but the increased volume levels at restaurants, bars, sporting events, and other venues are also likely to blame.

This issue is of tremendous concern to me because I have a hearing loss. Mine is genetic, but it began in my mid-20s when I was a young adult, so I know firsthand the frustration and sadness that comes from missing important information at school or at work.

I understand the inconvenience of running for a plane because you didn’t hear the gate change announcement and the social isolation that comes from missing the joke when everyone is laughing. I also worry about the many health problems that are associated with hearing loss – things like diabetes and dementia.

We don’t want any of this for our children, particularly if the hearing loss is noise-induced – something that can be easily avoided.

Your Hearing is More Fragile Than You Might Expect

Noise-induced hearing loss occurs when the tiny hair cells inside the cochlea in your inner ear are damaged. While they are called hair cells, they are nothing like the hair on your head. Each healthy human ear contains almost 20,000 of these cells. They are very sensitive, which allows us to enjoy a full range of musical tones, but are also very delicate. When exposed to loud noise for an extended period of time, hair cells begin to bend and weaken, and eventually die. The worst part is that once these cells are compromised, they are gone for good.

How loud is too loud? Prolonged exposure to any noise at or above 85 decibels can cause gradual hearing loss. This is the level of heavy city traffic or a school cafeteria. At 105 decibels, the maximum volume of an iPod, some hearing loss can occur within 15 minutes. At 110 decibels, the level of a rock concert or loud sporting event, damage can occur after one minute. Click here for a chart that displays safe listening times for sounds of various volumes.



Follow These Three Simple Steps To Avoid Noise Induced Hearing Loss


1.    Turn it down. Enjoy your music, but keep it at a safe listening level.  Listening to your iPod at maximum volume for 15 minutes is all it takes to damage your hearing. And listening time is cumulative. Listen longer at lower volumes and stay safe. Noise canceling headphones can block out background noise, allowing you to enjoy your music at lower volumes.Safety tip: If someone else can hear the music playing in your headphones, it is too loud.

2.    Move away. The farther you are from the noise, the safer it is. Sit far away from speakers and move quickly away from an unexpected loud sound. If you see construction or other loud noise ahead, cross the street. Safety tip: Decibel reader apps that measure the volume of sound are available for most smart phones. If in doubt, check out the volume and take action when needed. 

3.    Block the noise. At concerts or sporting events, wear earplugs or earmuffs. They come in many styles and colors and some have acoustic qualities that preserve the richness of the music while blocking out other sounds. I always wear my noise-cancelling headphones on planes (without music) to block out the roar of the engine. Safety tip: Disposable earplugs are available in most drugstores and can easily be carried in a pocket or purse. Bring extras to share with others.

 Want more information? Visit It’s A Noisy Planet, a website run by the National Institutes of Health.