Are you suffering from hearing loss? Do you think headphone use is responsible? According to survey results by the National Institute of Health (NIH), hearing loss is on the increase by as much as 30-percent among younger ages. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg seeks regulation of headphones to reduce Sound Pressure Level (SPL) specification ratings and is starting a social media project to get the message out. What do you have to say about this?
Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. One in three people older than 60, and half of those older than 85, have some degree of hearing loss. It is not just a matter of old age. Nearly a fifth of all American teens have hearing loss. About 60 percent of our veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan experience hearing loss that makes them feel even more isolated and alone returning to civilian life. Studies over the past 40 years cite evidence that hearing loss can make sufferers feel isolated in public conversations and exhibit depression symptoms. Are headphones to blame?
Mayor Bloomberg is planning a $250,000 social media and marketing campaign to warn teens that they risk hearing loss from listening to personal music players at high volume.
New headphones are capable of reaching sound pressure levels up to 125 decibels (dB) and, according to statistics, that’s very loud and very near the borderline of pain. A normal conversation is about 60dB, a New York City subway station is about 100dB, front row tickets at an amplified concert may be 110dB. Most household appliances, from mixers to vacuum cleaners, have levels up to 90dB. A busy city street can reach noise levels of 100dB, discounting passing ambulances and firetrucks. We live with a lot of high decibel noise. The Mayor feels that the culprit is prolonged exposure.
Military actions expose people of young ages to extremely loud sounds. War exposes soldiers to gun blasts, assault rifles, and bombs. Proximal decibel levels may exceed 140dB, the level believed to cause eardrum damage. Among those serving excesses of one year, increased hearing loss is evident.
General headphone listening is around 80 to 100dB in a quiet environment. If you’re jogging outdoors along a busy street or listening while riding a bus or train, you might crank up the volume. Headphone manufacturers extend the specifications beyond 125dB for those periods when loudness is necessary while not straining the limits of battery power. Cranking volume up can use much more battery power than typical use. Headphone designs incorporate cushioning and ear-channel liners that help suppress ambient noise from interfering with headphone listening experiences.
Sound vibration and amplitudes have taken the blame for increasing hearing loss but loss of hearing may be found in some of the quietest areas. A recent study shows that hearing loss may have genetic sources. From a study published January 2013, a gene associated with both noise-induced and age-related hearing loss has been identified by an international team of researchers funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). The gene, P2X2, is the first gene to be identified in humans and a mouse model that is associated with both types of hearing loss. It appears to be crucial for life-long normal hearing and for protection from exposure to noise. There are families that also may have hereditary hearing loss that occur at younger ages.
There is the possibility that audiology (hearing) tests may be recommended for higher age ranges and the results may show higher levels of hearing loss. As such, typical hearing ranges may be skewed to different average levels. Correcting hearing loss and developing better hearing aids may be the results.
Prolonged use of headphones requires some level of personal responsibility. As with smoking, diet, sun exposure, and exercise, headphone use may offer health consequences but the benefits may often outweigh them as we seek pleasure and connectedness. There’s a balance that needs finding and variances are personal. While hearing loss detection might be higher, are uses of headphones part of the blame (and to what degree)?
Should the New York mayor be involved? I would like to think that Mayor Bloomberg may want to focus on helping more New Yorkers with losses of other opportunities but welcome his use of social media to open a platform on headphones and their use. He may discover some valuable lessons.
Headphones are not dangerous to your health. There are hundreds of reasons why hearing loss is found in more samples of the population. Use of machines and industry may factor more. Genetics may play roles. What happens if we turn all noises off? Will you hear well? Will you be happier?