Increased volume through earbuds raises hearing loss risk
We see them everywhere. They’re in restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, department stores, and city parks—kids staring down, lost in their cell phones or other electronic gadgets, with earbuds jammed in their ears, completely oblivious to the world around them. Many times, the music they’re playing on their phone or MP3 player is so loud, an observer can hear it from several feet away. While much research has examined how the overuse of technology affects child brain development, a new concern is arising regarding the risks children face for premature hearing loss, particularly when using earbuds.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since the dawn of the MP3 player back in 2001, 13% of American children between ages 6 and 19 have acquired some level of noise-induced hearing loss. That’s more than 5 million young people. According to audiologists, hearing loss in teens is about 30% higher now than it was in the 1980s and 1990s. Though attending rock concerts poses a great threat to premature hearing loss, the significant increase in hearing loss among today’s generation of younger people is being attributed to the daily use of earbuds with their cell phones and MP3 players.
Twenty-five years ago, people used their Sony Walkman Personal Stereos for about half an hour per day, either while jogging, working out, or doing some other short-term activity. When the activity was finished, so was their listening time. They were also using headphones that went over the ears. Back then, it wasn’t as common to turn the volume up too high because the simpler technology couldn’t handle the output, and the sound would become distorted. At the same time, these devices ran on two AA carbon batteries with limited lifespans, so using them for hours on end wasn’t an option.
Today, cell phones and MP3 players can last for years and have batteries that are rechargeable. Because cell phones are also computers, kids can listen to music or watch videos for hours on end while using earbuds that are inserted into the ear canal about a half inch from the eardrum. The digital technology makes sound crystal clear, so there is no real incentive to keep it low. In fact, kids have a strong tendency to turn the volume up to drown out exterior noise from things like crowds and traffic. With earbuds being so close to the hearing mechanism inside the ear, the risk of hearing damage occurring at lower levels is very real. Just by placing the source of sound closer to the eardrum, earbuds have been shown to increase volume by 9 decibels when compared to other hearing appliances. Based on the increase in patients audiologists are seeing, it’s been estimated that anywhere between 15% and 25% of children listen to their devices at hazardous levels.
Dr. Habib Sadeghi is the co-founder of Be Hive of Healing, an integrative health center based in Los Angeles. He provides revolutionary healing protocols in integrative, osteopathic, anthroposophical, environmental, and family medicine, as well as clinical pharmacology. He served as an attending Physician and Clinical Facilitator at UCLA-SM Medical Center and is currently a Clinical Instructor of Family Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences. Dr. Sadeghi is a regular contributor to Goop, CNN, BBC News and TEDx. He is the author of Within: A Spiritual Awakening to Love & Weight Loss, as well as the foreword to Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good, and is the publisher of the health and well-being journal, MegaZEN.