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The Buzz on Earbuds

Today on NBC’s Today Show, they included a story about how adolescents are experiencing hearing loss, most likely due to exposure to loud noises and ear buds.

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Wake Specialty Physicians – ENT Audiologists Jeanne Lansing and Cameron Warren offer the following suggestions to identify hearing loss and minimize your child’s over exposure to noise.

When Is Loud Too Loud?

Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a gradual, painless and cumulative loss of hearing associated with over exposure to loud sounds. There are three factors associated with NIHL:

  • Loudness
  • The duration of exposure to the sound
  • The frequency a person is exposed to the sound
  • Proximity to the sound

Safety experts use these factors in a specific mathematical equation to determine if factory workers need ear protection on the job,” says Warren.  “These measurements are difficult to obtain for personal devices.”

Tips and Technology to Prevent Hearing Loss

  • Set the volume at 50 percent or less.  Many devices have volume ranges.  Set the volume at no more than 50 percent. 
  • Limit exposure.  Monitor your child’s listening habits as much as possible.
  • Don’t hear the music.  You should not be able to hear the music or game your child is listening to when he or she is using earbuds.
  • Volume lock parental control. Many portable music devices come with volume locks.  These are great for younger children but not as effective for older children and teens, who learn how to circumvent the parental control.
  • Custom earmolds.  For about $100, you can have these made for your child.  Custom earmolds limit the outside noise associated with improperly fitting earbuds so kids can turn down the volume.

So, how can you tell if the music coming through those earbuds into your child’s ears is too loud?  “The next time your child is listening to the mp3 player, stand about three feet away.  Can you hear the music he is listening to?  If so, the volume is up too high,” says Lansing.

Lansing and Warren agree:  noise induced hearing loss is 100 percent preventable.  They also agree that audiologists will begin to see more people who experience hearing loss from over exposure to noise at a younger age than in the past.  “Hearing loss is painless and happens over time,” says Warren.  “Before you realize it, you are having problems.”  If teens, and, yes, adults who “crank up the tunes” turn down the volume and exercise the right precautions, they can enjoy excellent hearing for many years to come.

What Are the Signs of Over Exposure to Noise?

  • Ringing in the ears – Temporary or constant
  • Speech sounds muffled after you remove the earbuds
  • If parents and teachers need to raise their voices after exposure to the noise
  • Difficulty understanding someone an arm’s length away
  • Ear pain can also be associated with over exposure to noise, but it is not common.
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