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Hearing loss: Highest in 20 years

By | October 01, 2010 | News

While blasting music on a personal listening device, grooving to your favorite song, or bumping the sound in your car or on your personal stereo at home, is the potential risk of hearing loss the first thing on your mind?

Personal listening devices have become a common part of our society. On a college campus it’s not uncommon to see students walking from one part of campus to the other completely oblivious to the rest of the world, while they have both ear-buds in to block out any noise around them.

Students are at a high risk of suffering from noise-induced hearing loss when they listen to music at a high volume, and can be completely unaware of it.

Noise-induced hearing loss is damage to the hair cells in the inner ear that allow sound energy to be converted to electric energy that our brain reads as a sound. Without the hair cells our brain is unable to recognize sound waves. Thus, we lose our ability to hear. There’s nothing we can do to bring our hearing back once it’s damaged.

Decibels, dB, are the unit in measuring how loud a sound is. Any sound below 85 dB is considered safe to be around. Normal conversation between two people is around 65 dB, while a lawn mower or a construction vehicle puts out 85 dB of noise.

Fresno State audiology professor Dr. Cynthia Cavazos is a local expert on the dangers of loud sound and the direct impact it can have on hearing loss. She is also a consulting audiologist for the California Department of Education, at the Diagnostic Center of Central California.

“Your generation has shown a tremendous increase in hearing loss as compared to 20 years ago, and it can in part be attributed to the use of personal listening devices,” Cavazos said.

The most dangerous aspect to listening to music is listening at too high of a volume, but it is not the only factor involved in damaging the ability to hear. The amount of time spent around a specific intensity of sound can also impact the amount of damage caused to the hair cells in the ear.

According to the public health campaign Dangerous Decibels, if you’re around an area that is 85 dB for eight hours or longer you will suffer from nose-induced hearing loss.

It’s apparent that listening to music anywhere from 20 minutes to a couple of hours in a single session is the normal thing to do for most students on campus or at the gym.

When listening to music with headphones for an excessive amount of time, there’s still a risk that someone can suffer from hearing damage even if the volume dB isn’t at a level that can cause immediate damage.

Every three dB is double the sound intensity, and cuts the amount of time in half before permanent hearing damage starts to occur. For example, if eight hours of 85 dB will cause hearing damage, 88 dB will start to cause hearing damage in four hours.

Health science major Jessica Aguirre, 24, feels that she has suffered from hearing loss because of listening to music at too high of a volume.

“I noticed in my car when I don’t have my iPod connected to the radio, I would turn it up super high,” Aguirre said. “Before I would connect my iPod and I would put it in the middle range, now I need to blast it.”

Other students feel that their hearing has not been impacted because of their listening habits with personal listening devices.

Business major Juan Scoggins, 19, doesn’t think he has suffered from any hearing loss. When listening to music Scoggins realizes that some songs are louder than others so he will adjust accordingly to prevent the music from being too loud.

According to the sales records from the Kennel Book Store, the most popular music player sold on campus is the Apple iPod.

Apple included a volume maximum cap built into the iPod settings. This volume cap can be set to reduce the amount of sound intensity that comes out when listening to music. A password is used to keep children from changing the volume cap if a parent were to set it before giving it to the child.

Unfortunately, just because this feature is provided to anyone who uses an iPod, doesn’t mean that they will use it.

Scoggins knew about his volume cap setting, but he didn’t use it. Other students said they just kept the volume cap setting at 100 percent; in effect there is no reduction in amount of noise output when listening to music.

Cavazos explained that anyone at any age is at risk to noise-induced hearing loss.

“Nobody is safe from noise,” Cavazos said.

Student can get a free hearing test at the Speech & Hearing Clinic, located on the second floor of the Psychology and Human Services Building in room 205. Students can call to set up an appointment at 559-278-2422.

Cavazos said getting a test is a great way to see if you have suffered from hearing loss. Students can also get a hearing test now, then get retested in a few years to see if they have more hearing damage than the last time they took the test.

“Noise-induced hearing loss is 100 percent preventable and the best step to take is to turn your music down,” Cavazos said. “Use speakers instead of headphones for longer listening sessions and take breaks to give your ears a rest when using a personal listening device.”

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