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Protecting Teens From Hearing Loss

This was originally posted on February 21, 2012 on the InfoComm All Voices Blog >>>

For the first time in nearly 25 years, teens have experienced a 30% increase in hearing loss. The culprit: noise-induced hearing loss. Recent studies show that 1 in 5 teens now have noise-induced hearing problems. Although reported by many, I believe there is still much work to be done to build awareness about this important issue. I personally find it concerning because hearing is so critical to our interactions with others, and it’s all too easy to take our hearing for granted.
 

 “Blindness separates us from things, but deafness separates us from people.”  Helen Keller
 
I grew up listening to Foreigner, Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, Def Leppard, and others at high volumes in my bedroom, barely hearing my mother’s voice as she yelled for me to “Turn that ‘ya ya’ down.” I was also very proud to redo the stereo system in my 1964 Volkswagen Bug — I put eight speakers in that little car! Nothing seemed more important than playing my music so loudly that I couldn’t hear anything else. And I know my friends were impressed when I pulled up and they could hear me before they saw me.
 
Many of us have shared similar experiences; after all loud music is a rite of passage for teenagers. Our industry is rich with individuals who once played in a band — and in many cases still do. Being a member of a band is cool, and it’s a passion for many in our industry. We understand the joy and emotional connection that music brings to us, and often we believe that the louder the better. Remember the saying that if it’s too loud, you’re too old? If you’re working in the audio industry, chances are that you or some of your colleagues are already dealing with hearing loss.
 
In some ways, hearing loss in a seasoned AV professional seems understandable. But such a significant rise in teen hearing loss is alarming. The fact that it’s noise induced — and therefore preventable — makes it tragic.
We have an opportunity and a responsibility to communicate that it’s not cool to lose your hearing. The fact is that once you’re hearing is gone, it’s gone forever. There is no fix for hearing loss. Let me state it again: Once it’s gone it’s gone!
 
Imagine what this means. Hearing loss changes our ability to fully enjoy experiences, and it impacts our lives in so many ways. It’s more difficult to understand a conversation or appreciate music. Hearing loss doesn’t just affect an individual, but also one’s family and friends. It affects our ability to connect with people. It can separate us, isolate us. Some people get ringing in the ears, called tinnitus, which often becomes permanent. All of this can cause anxiety and irritably.
 
Noise-induced hearing loss is a permanent hearing impairment resulting from prolonged exposure to high levels of noise. Everywhere I look, I see people wearing ear buds and headphones, and often the volume is such that I can hear some of what the person is listening to. But here’s what else is happening with those headphones and ear buds:
  • You have your earphones on and you’relistening to your favorite music at high volume.
  • The sound waves enter the ear, travel thru the ear canal all the way to the hair cells located in your inner ear.
  • Hair cells help convert sound energy into electrical signals sent to the brain. This allows you to hear the music clearly.
  • But when the volume is too loud, those hair cells get damaged  — nd never grow back
For more information about noise-induced hearing loss, visit the House Research Institute,  a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with hearing loss and related disorders.
The fact of th ematter is, noise-induced hearing loss is preventable. Even a small loss of hearing can have a lifetime of consequences fora child. Here are a few tips for noise-induced hearing loss prevention:
  • Talk about it and educate your kids
  • Monitor sounds in excess of 85 dB
  • Remove headphones and ear buds often and take 15-minute breaks
  • Move away from on-stage monitors or amplifiers while listening or performing
  • Use hearing protection often — and not just at concerts
Noise-induced hearing loss is preventable, but more education on thetopic is necessary. We need more dialogue about how to prevent this type of hearing loss and it needs to come from this community.
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