Can you hear me now?

Dangerously loud noises harm young ears

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NORTH FULTON, Ga. – With the upcoming summer and traveling season, audiologists are warning parents to monitor their children’s exposure to loud noises.

Anything from traffic to lawnmowers can damage people’s ears. But doctors say that the most prevalent reason for hearing loss in children are electronic devices such as ear buds.

“More and more, parents are bringing their children to our practice, and the kids are complaining their ears are ringing,” said Dr. Deborah Woodward, an audiologist who works for the Emory Audiology and Hearing Aid Center in Johns Creek. “Ringing in the ears occurs most prominently when you have had excessive exposure to loud noises or sounds.”

According to a 2010 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, there has been a 31 percent increase from 1994 in hearing loss among adolescents in the U.S. The researchers found that one in five adolescents have hearing loss.

Noises 85 decibels or louder are considered dangerous. Listening to something at 85 decibels for more than eight hours is damaging. Decibels that range in the 100s can cause immediate hearing loss, according to www.dangerousdecibels.org.

Electronic devices like iPods have the potential to reach 130 decibels when listened to at full strength, according to www.livescience.com.

“Families will be taking vacations and traveling,” said Woodward. “Kids will oftentimes put ear buds in and wear them for an eight-hour or 10-hour drive. When they get to their destination, they notice that their ears are ringing.”

Ear buds can be three times as damaging compared to listening to music from speakers in an open room, she said.

According to Woodward, using headphones instead of ear buds has the potential to be less damaging. However, headphones have more power and can drive louder sounds into the ear. Noise-canceling earphones work well because they help drown out ambient noises. So someone might not be as inclined to turn up the volume as loud with noise-canceling devices.

Coupled with ear buds, a major factor for the recent increase in hearing loss has been attributed to the rise of MP3 players. During the age of Walkmans and then Discmans, the devices could only hold a certain number of songs. People would stop listening once the tape or disc ended, according to Atlanta-based audiologist Dr. Deborah Brooks. Brooks works for HealthInnovations, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group.

“Nowadays, you can listen to music hours on end,” she said. “We are listening to music a lot more and a lot louder.”

A good rule of thumb is to listen at 60 percent volume for 60 minutes or 70 percent volume for 30 minutes, Brooks said.

There are several signs of hearing loss such as continuously turning up the television, complaining about mumbling or asking someone to repeat himself. The most common sign is tinnitus — ringing in the ears.

“If you notice any of these signs, contact your doctor immediately,” Brooks said.

Woodward and Brooks outlined some preventative steps for parents to combat hearing loss.

The first is to discuss the dangers of loud music and noises. Secondly, parents can put volume limits on MP3 players, as well as time limits.

“If you can stand next to your child and hear sound leakage, then it is too loud,” Woodward said.

Parents also can incorporate several advocacy websites such as www.turnittotheleft.com, which is run by the American Academy of Audiology.