Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a gradual loss of hearing caused by excessive noise exposure. It can result from a single exposure to a very loud noise, or from listening to loud noises over an extended period. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of NIHL due to the unsafe use of audio devices such as MP3 players, exposure to damaging levels of noise in entertainment venues such as nightclubs and bars, and loud workplaces such as construction sites and factories.
Signs of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Noise-induced hearing loss in teens usually happens slowly, so your teen may not be aware of a problem until it's too late. Right after hearing loud noise, they may complain of a ringing in their ears. They may have difficulty hearing other people clearly and may ask people to repeat themselves. They may need to listen to music or watch the TV with the sound at a high volume and may feel tired or stressed from having to concentrate hard while listening. After several hours or days, their symptoms may resolve themselves. However, when they expose themselves to loud noise again, they may permanently damage their ears' sensory cells, resulting in irreversible hearing loss.
Preventing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
NIHL is the only form of hearing loss that's completely preventable. Talking to your teen about the dangers of excessive noise exposure and the importance of hearing protection is one way to ensure that they protect themselves against NIHL. Everyday life provides lots of opportunities for you to get the conversation started. For example, if you notice someone using a lawn mower while wearing earbuds, point out to your teen how loud the lawn mower is and how loud the music must be for them to able to hear it.
When talking about NIHL, your goal is to help your teen understand the consequences of health-risk behaviors and think up practical solutions that they can use to protect their own hearing. If your teen has trouble coming up with ideas, offer the following suggestions:
- Listen to audio devices at volumes lower than 85 decibels. Most audio devices have a maximum volume set above this recommended limit.
- Wear earplugs when visiting noisy venues. Earplugs reduce the amount of sound that reaches the ear.
- Purchase noise-limiting headphones for your kids and teens. The noise output of these headphones has been limited to provide a comfortable and safe listening experience.
- Use custom-made hearing protection, or custom musician plugs if your teen is exposed to loud music. Custom-made hearing protection is fitted with noise-reducing filters positioned to match the wearer's particular needs, and is guaranteed to reduce loud noise to safe levels while preserving the clarity of sounds. It's particularly important for anyone who regularly spends time in noisy environments. Our total hearing care office can create custom hearing protection for your teen.
- Limit the time spent in noisy environments such as entertainment venues. The ears need time to recover after they've been exposed to loud noise.
- Restrict daily use of audio devices to less than an hour. A good rule to live by is the 60:60 rule, which involves listening to audio devices at 60 percent of the maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes a day.
- Use smartphone apps to monitor safe listening levels. These apps help users to measure their noise exposure and take appropriate action.
Together we can help your teen to realize that it's wise to take steps to protect their hearing now, rather than potentially needing to wear hearing aids later in life.