Remember the days of hearing "Move back, you're sitting too close to the television—you'll ruin your eyes!" or "Turn that music down—you're going to deafen yourself!" Well, guess what? With the current popularity of a certain personal digital music player, you've more than likely found yourself shouting the same threats of potential hearing damage to your kids (or maybe even your high-tech friendly spouse!). Gone forever are the days of the Walkman, which, through the wonders of digital technology, has been replaced by digital music players weighing mere ounces. Even big, bulky headphones are long gone and in their place are small, nearly imperceptible "ear buds." The digital technology has led to wonderful advances in personal entertainment, but what is the impact on our ears and our hearing?
The Mayo Clinic notes that about 30 million Americans currently have some hearing loss and approximately one-third of those people have noise-induced hearing loss. The National Health Interview Survey adds that 26 percent of respondents between the ages of 45 and 64 reported hearing difficulty, with 17 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 44 reporting problems.
Music and other loud noises cause hearing loss by damaging the hair cells in the cochlea, the part of the inner ear that helps transmit sound information to your brain. The hair cells can often recover from temporary damage (the muffled hearing for a few days following a loud concert). However extremely loud noises or loud noises that continue over a long period of time can do permanent damage to the inner ear's hair cells. If the hair cells are destroyed, they don't come back—resulting in partial hearing loss, at the very least.
The high quality of sound that makes today's personal MP3 players so popular is also a possible contributing danger. The combination of fantastic sound quality, portability, and light weight construction mean there is a greater likelihood that the device will be used more frequently and for longer durations.
The Mayo Clinic adds that the music may be too loud if:
As a point of reference, the League for the Hard of Hearing notes the following decibel (db) levels for some sounds you may have experienced:
According to the Mayo Clinic, sounds above 90 db may cause hearing loss, particularly after prolonged exposure. Most portable MP3 players are capable of producing sounds up to 120 db.
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders suggests that if you buy an MP3 player for your child, take the time to show them how to protect their hearing from permanent damage. This includes limiting the volume to no more than 60 percent of the maximum setting and limiting listening time to no more than one hour each day.
Try as you may, you can't monitor your children 100 percent of the time, and part of growing up will always include listening to loud music (haven't we all done it?) So educate your kids on the wonderful and delicate science of the ear and arm them with the knowledge they need to protect their precious gift of hearing.
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