Parents of teenagers may be very concerned about the recent reports of teen hearing loss being on the rise. Most of these reports place the blame squarely upon the use of earbuds for mp3 players. Although common sense leans toward thinking that aiming noise directly at one’s eardrums is a very bad idea, the stories of teen hearing loss being a rising danger predate earbuds. Many people who are parents of teens now may remember the epidemic of tinnitus that plagued the 80s and 90s. Quite a few of them were probably victims of it and even then it was squarely blamed on musical byproducts as well, though then the fingers were pointing at the industrial-strength speakers at concert venues, open hatch-back car stereo systems and the sound of shattering glass that might result from the use of either.
This does not negate the lack of common sense associated with earbuds that themselves do not have, or are connected to a device which does not have a numerically indicated volume control. It is extremely simple to protect one’s ears from excessive sound volume. Ask your teens to tell you what number their mp3 player’s volume is set at, put the earbud in your own ear to see exactly what that number sounds like to the un-desensitized ear (after taking a handi-wipe to it). If it sounds excessive, remind them (perhaps constantly) to set and keep it set at a lower level.
Many mp3 players have a safety setting that allows a maximum volume to be set. This lets the volume stop increasing even in the event of a touchy touch-screen or accidental miss-click depending on the operation of the mp3 player’s controls. There are also a variety of headphones and earbuds currently for sale which have their own volume controls. Some of them marketed as child-safe such as those available from iHearSafe which will not go louder than 85 decibels no matter how high the device’s volume is set. The cnet site has a wonderful review and comparison of many different headphones made for children. Granted they’re not made for teens but children so wouldn’t be very ‘cool’, but putting ‘safe earbuds’ into cnet’s search engine revealed at least one likely safe choice.
Though it must be noted that while it could very well be likely all the earbuds’ fault, teen hearing loss (and hearing loss in general) may not be something that can be blamed on any single thing. The world is a noisy place and schools are no exception. The volumes that surround you and your children on a daily basis, often for hours at a time, do their own damage even if that damage is slower and subtler. There are Connecticut noise control laws but none of them address earbuds, earphones and go so far as to exempt many sources of loud noises that could very well contribute to hearing loss over extended exposure.
A website page titled ‘Interesting Facts About Hearing Loss’ tells us that noise-induced hearing loss “..is hearing loss due to exposure to either a sudden, loud noise or exposure to loud noise for a period of time. A dangerous sound is anything that is 85 dB (sound pressure level – SPL) or higher.” It goes on via an illustrated chart to say that busy city traffic is 85 dB (which can cause damage after 8 hours), hair dryers and gas mowers are around 90-95 dB and that chainsaws, rock concerts and leaf blowers are all between 105 and 115 dB. While it does mention that classroom noise can reach levels up to 65 dB, it does not mention what your television or car radio might level at on the dB scale, but it’s another constant noise that probably should be considered, just because of how long people, especially teens, will expose themselves to it.. Most notably if you have to turn it up to hear over the city traffic going on outside your windows. Neither does it mention the dB associated with the typical school-bus ride home.
Many sounds we don‘t think of as loud, from those you are focused on actively listening to, to background noise of streets, televisions, radio and yet those mp3 player earbuds, are all adding up together to accumulated damage to your ears. There is great common sense in investing in dB limiting earbuds or headphones and being careful not to let the volume keep inching higher, but complete blame cannot be set squarely on any one noise-producer’s shoulders, not when the world is filled with loud noises, most beyond your control to stifle. The most you can do is invest in safer earbuds, keeping the windows and doors closed when watching television so you won’t be fighting to hear dialog over traffic, perhaps get some earplugs if your street is constantly prone to loud traffic and of course to become worse than your own parents were about your stereo and even when you can’t hear it because they have the earbuds on, start in on nagging your teens to ‘turn it down!’