Turning down the music could mean saving the hearing

Thursday, November 6, 2008
Ear buds or ear phones are thought to be damaging to hearing depending on the volume, frequency and duration they are in our ears. Experts say hearing loss is becoming more and more evident in youth, possibly a result of loud music.

Next time you plug in your MP3 player and stick in your ear buds, think about this -- you could be damaging your hearing.

It's not the ear buds or head phones that are the problem.

It's the frequency and the volume, said Mike Sloniker, audiologist MSCCA (Master's of Science of Certified Clinically Competent in Audiology) at Siouxland Hearing Healthcare, in Sioux City.

"The main thing there is you look at the level of loudness in comparison to the duration of time (ear buds are) used," said Sloniker, who has been working at Floyd Valley Hospital (FVH) in Le Mars 17 years.

Knowing how loud is too loud is the key, he said.

"If you were trying to carry on a conversation with (people wearing ear buds) and they can't hear you, that's a pretty good sign that things are too loud," Sloniker said.

And that could lead to permanent hearing loss.

"One of the first symptoms is tinnitus, a ringing in the ears, or a dull sensation accompanied by ringing," Sloniker said.

Another good indication of possible hearing loss is if "you are asking people to repeat," he said.

Connie Hanson, a speech therapist at FVH said those symptoms are showing up in junior and high schoolers, something she thinks is caused by overuse of ear buds.

More than one-half of high school students in the United States report having at least one symptom of hearing loss, according to a 2006 poll commissioned by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA).

Hanson said combating that phenomenon can be done by using caution in four areas:

*The length of time they listen to the music.

*The volume you listen to the music.

*The noise within your environment.

*The frequency that you listen to the music.

For example, a construction worker might listen to loud music through ear buds all day, every day while working with a jackhammer.

"That's going to be much more dangerous than a person that only puts ear buds in once every three weeks," Hanson said. "That doesn't have the same damaging effect."

Imagine that construction worker already exposed to 130 decibels of sound from the jackhammer adding the 110 decibels of rock music to his or her ears.

Also, especially at this time of year, farmers, who are harvesting their crops are spending hours at a time inside tractors. Putting in ear buds on top of that and cranking up the music is a problem, Hanson said.

According to the ASHA, a quiet room has a decibel level of 40.

"if you're working around any kind of noise or playing around (it), if the level of that noise is 85 decibels, you should be wearing earplugs," Sloniker said. "Ear buds are not ear plugs."

Currently researchers are looking into or have already created MP3 Players with built in volume controls that will automatically lower if the sound level is too high, Sloniker said.

But until they become available, the best option to avoid hearing loss is education, he said.

"It can come from several different sources," Sloniker said. "If it's kids, it needs to come from the parents."

Sloniker said although ear buds can cause damage to the ear, using headphones with foam covering that don't fit directly into the ear are not always the answer either.

"It all depends on the volume," he said. "The concern is if you're wearing ear phones, do you just crank it up louder."

Education and regular screening is important, Hanson said, because hearing loss can often lead to behavioral problems.

"If you can't hear what's going on in the world around you, why not act out as a way to get attention," she said. "Or I may not be purposely ignoring you. I can't hear you so it appears that I'm just disobeying you."

Like Sloniker, Hanson said the best prevention against hearing loss caused by extended listening to loud music is education.

"Educate your kids as far as once you wear a set of ears out, there's not ear replacements yet," Hanson said. "So it's just gone."

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