Young people are experiencing higher rates of hearing loss than expected. Though the rates are nowhere close to the levels among aging populations, a closer look at the data reveals something quite interesting. The younger generations, when compared with young people in the past, have higher rates of hearing loss, and researchers are keen to understand what has changed. Many measures of health have improved across the globe, so why would the hearing loss be on the rise among young people and young adults? One of the possible solutions has to do with changes in technology. Each October we celebrate “Protect Your Hearing Month” to recognize how important prevention can be in the global fight against hearing loss. This year, let’s designate the month to think about the relationship between hearing loss among young people and the protection that might stem the tide.
Technology and Access to Audio Media
One of the profound technological changes in the last decade is our access to digital media. In a constant stream, we can access music, movies, television, podcasts, and audiobooks from nearly anywhere in the world. Particularly with the invention of the smartphone, a portable device remains with us to give constant access to this media. Whereas in the past this type of audio was confined to home contexts with radios or home stereo systems, we are now able to bring audio content with us on the go. Along with the audio content itself, streaming services are on the rise. These sites host audio media for constant consumption, and many even offer this content without a subscription. With so much audio media available, it is possible to get too much of a good thing. Whereas a home stereo system played that sound for everyone in the household, individualized devices, such as headphones and earbuds, make it possible to listen to an enormous amount of audio without anyone knowing.
Young People and Listening Habits
Listening habits seem to be changing among younger generations. Older adults are slower to adopt these streaming media lifestyles, on the whole, but young people are quick to take up a new technological invention, such as streaming to individual devices. Though some young people limit their own consumption and others have family members who help them keep that streaming to a minimum, others are left unchecked with 24/7 access to sound. If this media is consumed at a low volume, a person can endure hours of listening without hearing damage. However, the threshold of volume that can cause damage might be unknown to many users. For instance, when played at maximum volume, some smartphones and other media devices emit a sound that can damage hearing within a matter of minutes.
Protection for Youth and Young Adults
What can be done to prevent this increase in hearing damage caused by streaming audio? One of the most effective tools is to set volume limits for yourself and your loved ones. A good rule of thumb is to play your device at no more than 75% of the maximum volume.
For adult users, it may be clear that a one-minute clip at a higher volume is appropriate, but children and teenagers can run the risk of playing loud volumes for too long. Rather than allowing devices to play at full volume by user discretion, apps are available to limit the maximum volume. Parental controls can even be put in place. Some adults will want to use these tools to monitor their own audio use, as well.
Another approach to protection is to make sure not to use headphones or earbuds when there is competing background noise. The presence of other high-volume sound is added to the volume already coming through headphones and earbuds, and there is a user impulse to turn up the sound of music or other audio to compete with that background noise. Except for the most powerful noise-canceling headphones, most of these devices are best used when there is not a loud level of background noise.
With these tips in mind, you can celebrate “Protect Your Hearing Month” by informing the young people in your life of the importance of hearing health! Although they might be inclined to listen to a steady stream of audio, one way to prioritize hearing health is to schedule a hearing test! Hearing tests can be administered to people of all ages. To schedule a hearing test, contact us today.