The Age of Technology or Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss is a prevalent sensory problem in the United States, affecting 14.9% of children and teenagers from ages 6 to 19.1 Hearing loss in children can impair cognitive development and is associated with mental health conditions such as depression. A common form of hearing loss is Noise-induced Hearing Loss (NIHL), which is caused by extended exposure to loud sounds that damage the inner ear or rupture the eardrum [1].

NIHL is caused by exposure to loud noises on a frequent basis. A limit of eight hour increments of no more than 85 decibels is advised by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). However, maintaining noise exposure in accordance with this guideline does not ensure complete hearing protection because environmental noises add to daily noise accumulation. Furthermore, many people, especially teenagers are exposed to loud noises daily from headphones. According to a 2015 report with over 2,600 US adolescents, two-thirds of participants reported listening to music daily on portable devices like cell phones.1 Finally, NIHL often goes undetected by most individuals. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that one in four US adults who claim to have good hearing have quantifiable hearing loss. And concerningly, the risk of hearing loss progressively increases by age if auditory damage continues to accumulate [2].


So how does this hearing loss occur? Let’s review the process of sound transduction in the ear. It begins when sound waves pass through the outer ear and vibrate the eardrum. This movement causes the bones of the middle ear to vibrate and the total vibrations pass through the fluid of the inner ear. There, tiny hairs on the nerve cells of the inner ear translate the vibrations into electrical signals which are sent to the brain and interpreted as sound.1 The work of the nerve cells produce cellular waste, which steadily accumulates in the inner ear. Long periods of listening to loud sounds cause the nerve cells to work continuously and produce waste without the opportunity to remove that waste. This accumulation of waste in the nerve cells then leads to cellular death and hearing loss. Interestingly, the extent of hearing loss varies from person to person due to genetic factors, meaning that some people are more susceptible to hearing loss than others [3].


So, what safety measures can be taken to prevent hearing loss? Unfortunately, genetic and lifestyle factors vary the safety measures each individual should take. Generally encouraged safety measures include recording the volume of headphones and other noise-emitting devices to ensure that it does not exceed 85 decibels and limiting the duration of noise exposure. However, with a teen population consuming sound at a dangerous volume and quantity, the question is now: are parents and teenagers aware of these risks, and will this be enough to stop teens from being affected by early hearing loss?


References:

  1. Louis, C. S. (2016, December 6). Children's Headphones May Carry Risk of Hearing Loss. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/06/health/headphones-hearing-loss-kids.html

  2. Carroll, Y. I., Eichwald, J., Scinicariello, F., Hoffman, H. J., Deitchman, S., Radke, M. S., … Breysse, P. (2019, April 8). Vital Signs: Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Among Adults — United States 2011–2012. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6605e3.htm?s_cid=mm6605e3_w

  3. The Best Kids Headphones. (2016, December 6). Retrieved from https://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-kids-headphones/#why-limiting-volume-is-important

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