With Hearing Loss On The Rise – How Loud Is Too Loud?


Both long and short durations of noise may affect our hearing function. Young people are exposed to loud sound levels during leisure-time activities more now than ever before – for example, when visiting clubs, concerts or listening to music with headphones. While the dangers of loud music is pretty worldly understood, it has previously been suggested that approximately 17% of the teenagers in the USA experience noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) due to lack of precaution, or lack of knowledge behind preventing hearing damage.

Thanks to a new study, research has now indicated that excessive listening to personal music players may cause damage to the cochlea in some individuals. In addition, listening to music for long periods of time and at a high intensity are associated with several auditory symptoms, such as temporary threshold shifts, tinnitus, noise sensitivity, and distortion, which eventually may increase the risk of developing permanent hearing loss. Studies in Scandinavia, Germany, the USA and China have already resulted in proving that approximately 12–15% of children, adolescents and young adults may be affected by hearing loss caused by leisure-time noise exposure, like when listening to music on a commute or when attending a live music event. A number which is predicted to rise significantly.

The new study included 280 adolescent participants, who were 17 years of age and primarily focused on self-reported data on hearing problems and listening habits that regarded portable music players, such as iPhones or iPods. From this group of participants, 50 adolescents also volunteered to take part in Part two of the study which focused on audiological measurements and measured listening volume in order to better clarify the results.

The researchers from the study found that the results clearly indicated that longer lifetime exposure in years as well as increased listening frequency were associated with damaged or generalised hearing loss thresholds and more self-reported hearing problems. Additionally, a tendency was found for listening to louder volumes and poorer hearing thresholds. Women reported more subjective hearing problems compared with men but exhibited better hearing thresholds. According to the results, men also clearly reported more use of personal music devices in which they would use to listen at higher volumes. Additionally, the study shows that adolescents listening for more than three  hours at a sitting were more likely to develop tinnitus than those who listened less. Those listening at ≥85 dB LAeq, FF and listening every day exhibited poorer mean hearing thresholds, reported more subjective hearing problems and listened more frequently in school and/or while sleeping.

Although the study showed that a vast majority of participants chose to listen at moderate sound level, as well as for a shorter period of time, the study also indicated that there is a subgroup of around 10% that choose to listen to music between 90 and 100 dB for longer periods of time, even while asleep. This particular group of individuals was found to be at risk for developing future noise-induced hearing impairments due to the habit being so frequent.

A Pediatric audiologist by the name of Brian Fligor who has studied the impact of headphones on hearing stated that “We are seeing pockets of young people who have worse hearing than you would expect, much worse hearing than you would expect.”

When it comes to loud sound, the general rule of thumb is the greater the volume, the shorter the acceptable duration would be. The top volume on an Apple music player, like the iPhone, is recorded to be 102 decibels, which is approximately as loud as a leaf blower. In response, keeping the volume at 70 percent, or 82 decibels, is considered much safer for eight hours a day. While keeping it at 80 percent volume, or 89 decibels, is only considered safe for 90 minutes.

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