Have you recently been to a concert or sporting event that got so loud you couldn't hear the person next to you? Do you work with loud equipment or blast the music in your earbuds when a good song comes on? Most people are around loud noises more often than they realize, but they don't understand the effect that noise, or that earbuds, has on their hearing. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a rapidly growing effect, seen on children as young as 6 years old. There are many reasons that people suffer from NIHL, but one of the most common is listening to loud music through earbuds for extended periods of time.
To fully understand the repercussion that noise and earbuds have on your hearing, it is vital to first understand how your ears work. Within each of our ears we have, among many parts, an ear drum and a cochlea. Each time a sound is made, sound waves travel throughout the air. Once the sound waves enter your ear they first hit your ear drum. Vibrations are then sent to three small bones within your ear the hammer, the anvil and, lastly, the stirrup. Once the vibrations have been sent to the stirrup, they are received by the cochlea, a snail-shaped cavity. The cochlea is home to thousands of nerve endings called cilia which receive the vibrations and send the sound messages to your brain. Your brain translates the sound and tells you what you are listening to.
Like me, you probably learned about this process in middle school and forgot all of the intricate details. Today, the most important thing you can remember about this process is the fragile state of the cilia, which are tiny hairs that are very sensitive to loud noises. Prolonged exposure to loud sounds can actually injure or kill your cilia. Once damaged or killed by loud sound, the cilia are unable to heal or grow back, and as a result your hearing is permanently damaged.
Sound is measured in units called decibels. The lowest level of sound is zero decibels, which is complete silence. A whisper is around 30 decibels, a refrigerator hums at 40, typical conversation is held at 60, a chain saw supplies 100 decibels of sound, a personal stereo maxes out at 105 and an ambulance siren sends warnings at 120. Once noise reaches 85 decibels of sound it can damage your cilia and put you at risk for NIHL; listening to 85 decibels of sound for a lengthened amount of time has been found to be the cause of gradual hearing loss for many kids and adults. When you choose to listen to sound, unprotected, at 100 decibels for more than 15 minutes, you are permanently damaging and killing your cilia and subjecting yourself to NIHL. Don t forget that most personal stereo systems max out at 105 decibels and when people listen to something for more than one minute at 110 decibels, they are in danger of permanent hearing loss.
Think how much damage you can do to your hearing if you stick in your earbuds and blast your music at 90 decibels during your commute to school or work. The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion reports that nearly 12.5 percent of children ages 6-19 within the United States have damaged hearing or permanent hearing loss because of the amount of time they spend listening to loud music. That s close to 5.2 million children and teens with permanently damaged hearing. They have also found that 17 percent of adults ages 20-69 within the United States have suffered the same effects due to the volume of their music. That s roughly 26 million adults.
We are fortunate to have so many modern conveniences, including earbuds, at our disposal. Earbuds are a convenient way to listen to music for several reasons: they block out more noise than most headphones, they came with several rubber earbud tips to provide a custom fit for your ear, they aren t as big or bulky as headphones and you don t have to worry about someone knocking them off the top of your head. Earbuds truly are more convenient in many ways; however, it is important to pay attention to the facts and dangers of using earbuds improperly. If you like engaging in conversation or listening to music, help your hearing last a lifetime; whether you are using earbuds, stereo headphones, a car stereo, or a music player at your house, watch the volume level and protect yourself from NIHL.