Loud music and teenagers go together like peas and carrots. For as long as teens have been turning up the dial and rockin’ around the clock, their parents have been shouting, “Turn that down!”

Many of us didn’t quite believe everything that our parents told us. After all, our eyes never “stayed that way” when we crossed them. But, when it comes to their warnings that loud music causes hearing loss, we should have turned down the music and listened to them. As it turns out, our parents were right all along.

The most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control from 2006 states that 20 percent of Americans between 12 and 19 years experienced hearing problems. That’s a 5 percent increase from the previous 20 years.

It’s safe to assume that the number of teens affected with hearing problems has increased. There was a time when two AA batteries were used to power a Walkman. After a few hours of play, the batteries would run down and ears would get a much needed break. Today, it’s a different story.

Dean Garstecki, a Northwestern University audiologist, was already concerned back in 2009 that current listening devices give teens the ability to listen to music at an ear-splitting volume for as much as 20 hours without needing to be recharged. That’s a lot of stress on one’s ears. Orly Avitzur, MD, Consumer Reports’ medical director comments that “… repeated injury is cumulative, just like a blow to the head can injure brains, and repeated concussion can cause serious problems."

A recent article by Lindsey Konkel for Consumer Reports, “Noise, Hearing Loss and Young Ears” explains that nerve cells in the inner ear relay sounds from the hair cells to the brain. “These nerve cells turn sound into something meaningful - helping ‘you go from hearing something to understanding it,’” explains Stéphane Maison, Ph.D., an assistant professor of otolaryngology at Harvard University. Damage to nerve cells may make it harder for people to distinguish speech from background noise. This can cause difficulty following conversation in a noisy restaurant, for example.

Experts also fear that cases of tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, may be on the rise due to the constant exposure to loud music. The problem is an early sign of hearing loss. Larry Roberts, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at McMaster University in Canada, warns that tinnitus can go away but may return and become permanent.

Teens aren’t alone when it comes to listening to loud music. Fifty percent of individuals between the ages of 12 and 35 years listen beyond a recommended level, according to the World Health Organization. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, we shouldn’t be listening to music at more than 85 dB, which is no more than 60 percent of the maximum volume. The louder the music, according to AAO, the less time it takes for the damage to be done.

So, when I looked foolish wearing earplugs at a Pink Floyd tribute band concert, I was actually doing my ears a favor. Rock concerts measure as high as 120 dB (decibels). Unfortunately, most people listen to music through earbuds at 100 dB. That is equivalent to the sound level of a chainsaw. A good rule of thumb is that if the person sitting next to you can hear what’s playing, your music is too loud. Even with earbuds in, you should be able to hear outside conversations.

If your child is experiencing any auditory problems, including tinnitus or struggling to hear what people are saying, talk with your physician. He or she may have an easily correctable problem, such as a build-up of ear wax. In the event that the problem is something more serious, early intervention is critical.

Teens can help to prevent hearing loss by not having earbuds in for more than 60 minutes. Other recommendations from Konkel’s article include:

• Stay away from loud events if you’ve already experienced tinnitus.

• Wear earplugs at loud events. Inexpensive foam drugstore products or ear muffs will do.

• Opt for over-the-ear headphones instead of earbuds; this may help safeguard your ears.

Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at pam@dunebrook.org.

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