Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Hearing Loss: YOUR Kids Are at Risk!

You Only Get One Pair of Ears

The other day, I was talking with my daughter, when I did the unthinkable...I unconsciously went back to the 1980s and referred to my iPod as a Walkman. 


"Mom, what in the world is a Walkman?"

You should have seen the look of confusion on her 11 year old face as I tried to explain cassette tapes in portable devices.  I'm not sure she even believed me when I told her that all of the cool kids had one. She certainly couldn't imagine that an iPod did not even exist when I was growing up. 

Her mind was blown but she was intrigued so I continued. I told her that if you were really, really cool, you walked around with a boom box on your shoulder. 

Remember this?

I could be all wrong, but as far as I know, no one really cared about hearing loss in kids during the 80s. In fact, based on my observations, no one ever really cared about hearing loss in any population- not factory workers, not military personnel, not even rock stars. No one was taking care of their ears. 

These days, we realize that we only get one pair of ears in this lifetime. As a result, hearing protection and hearing loss prevention are a pretty big deal for people of all ages. 

What changed? Who lead the efforts to increase awareness?

Every year in May, the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) recognizes speech and hearing professionals as a means for increasing public awareness guessed it...speech and hearing issues. 

I never realized that hearing comes before speech as we celebrate this month. (Did you catch that?)  So, I decided to depart from my typical exploration of speech disorders, cognitive impairments and swallowing difficulties.  This time, I want to give some love to my professional counterparts- the audiologists. In doing so, let's consider a very important hearing issue:  noise-induced hearing loss. 

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is growing more common in younger segments of the American population. At the same time, personal audio technology use is on the rise... even in the youngest of children. Putting the two together, ASHA presents some eye opening statistics:

  • 75% of kids ages 8 and under have access to a smart mobile device at home
  • Almost 40% of children under 2 have used mobile devices
  • 1 in 6 teens has a high-frequency, noise-induced hearing loss
  • 96% of parents believe their child is either not at risk or only slightly at risk of developing hearing problems as a result of excessive noise
  • 70% of parents haven't spoken with their kids about the consequences of excessive or prolonged noise exposure

Recognizing that NIHL is completely preventable, ASHA launched a campaign known as Listen to Your Buds.  The goal of the program is to educate the public about the risks of hearing loss in children from the unsafe use of personal audio technology, namely headphones and ear buds

While ASHA wants all kids to enjoy their technology, they emphasize that it must be done safely.  Here are 6 recommendations:

  1. Keep the volume down- a good guide is half volume
  2. Limit the listening time- give your ears and your hearing "quiet breaks"
  3. Talk to your kids- discuss and model safe listening habits
  4. Volume-limiting settings and parent controls- don't forget to use them
  5. Use noise-cancelling earphones when listening in a noisy environment
  6. Try the 60-60 rule- never turn the volume past 60% and only listen to music with earbuds for 60 minutes each day

So, how loud is too loud?  The average MP3 player has a max volume of 105 decibels, but noises can cause permanent hearing damage at only 85 decibels. How loud is that?  Here's a breakdown of the noise levels associated with everyday sounds and situations. 

Researchers estimate that nearly 25% of teens listen to their personal devices at risky levels. Therefore, experts suggest, if your child cannot hear you talking when you are standing an arm’s length away, then tell him or her to turn down the volume.

Teach your kids to start with the volume low and turn it up only loud enough to hear the music comfortably.  With a few simple changes to listening habits, kids can keep their ears healthy and prevent hearing loss in the future, and that's awesome because....we only get one pair of ears in this lifetime. 

One person's music is another person's noise.