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Illinois Country Living

Judy Taylor
Judy Taylor, Youth Development Educator, Springfield Extension Center

Safety & Health:

Turn That Music Down
More than a million teens could have prevented hearing loss

You could feel the base sound pounding in your chest the music was so loud. Attending a rock concert with a group of teens reminded me that of the 23.3 million Americans who have hearing loss, 1.3 million are 18 or younger. One third of all hearing losses result, at least in part, from the loud noises of modern life.

As teens head for rock concerts or turn up their iPod or car stereo, they may want to consider a radical response to the following bits of information. The average 70-year-old reports some hearing loss, but for young people exposed to loud noises, the aging process is accelerated. Entering freshmen in a midwestern college were tested and 60 percent were found to have hearing loss. By comparison, only 3.8 percent of sixth-graders had hearing loss.

Loud noises destroy the tiny cells in the inner ear that signal the auditory nerve to send sound messages to the brain. Once those cells die, they never grow back.

Our modern society is filled with loud noises. Appliances (blenders, blow dryers and vacuum cleaners), city traffic, jet engines and power lawn mowers are just few. Many of us are regularly exposed to noise at dangerous levels.

Noise is measured in decibels. Anything 80 decibels or louder is potentially dangerous. Examples of noises that are likely to be harmful include:

  • lawn mowers (90 decibels)
  • snowmobiles (100 decibels)
  • a jet plane takeoff (120 decibels)
  • firearms (140 decibels).

The louder the noise, the shorter the time it takes to damage your hearing. Your ears may be able to endure 90 decibels of noise, such as a lawn mower, for about eight hours before damage occurs. But for every five decibels above that, it takes only half as much time for damage to begin.

A noise at 95 decibels will hurt your ears in four hours. An arcade full of video games could cause damage in two hours. A stereo headset or iPod with ear buds set at full blast (about 110 decibels) could damage your ears in half an hour. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health actually recommends that exposure to noise at those levels not exceed one minute, 29 seconds.

So, how do we tell if music is loud enough to damage hearing? If you can hear the music when the ear buds are in your child or teen’s ears, that’s a sign it may be too loud. Or if you have to raise your voice to talk to someone who is an arm's length away, then the noise is likely to be hazardous.

The best way to protect your hearing is to avoid loud noises as much as possible. If the loud noise cannot be avoided—you're mowing the lawn, attending a concert, or working in shop class—protect your ears.

When dealing with your personal stereo, consider wearing headphones that block unwanted sound. The unwanted noise allowed by ear-bud-type devices may cause listeners to increase the volume. Headphones that fit over the ear are more effective at blocking unwanted sound.

What about all the other noises? Stuffing cotton in your ears won't work. Earplugs, the least expensive alternative, are usually available at hardware, music and sporting good stores. You can even have earplugs custom made through an audiologist.

The plugs usually come with a noise reduction rating on the label established by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which regulates hearing safety in the workplace, recommends using earplugs with a rating twice as strong as you need to ensure protection.

If you are going to a rock concert (the average concert has 110 decibels of sound) you would need to wear 45 decibel earplugs to make the concert noise safe for your ears. Thirty decibel plugs are probably the strongest plugs you can buy without going to an audiologist. But even the 30 decibel plugs would lengthen the time you could listen without damaging your ears.

I know what you’re thinking—only a small percentage of teens wear earplugs to concerts. So just think a little longer and then suggest your teen consider bucking the trend, doing something radical, being a rebel and protecting his/her hearing.



For More Information:

Judy Taylor, Youth Development Educator, Springfield Extension Center, 217-782-6515.


© 2008 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
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