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Are Their Ears Ringing?

Are Their Ears Ringing?

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Updated on Jan 14, 2008

Have you ever wondered how much damage is being done to your child's ears by listening to music through headphones? With the popularity of iPods and MP3 players on the rise, doctors are seeing an increase in noise-induced hearing loss. And it's happening at an ever-younger age. Ringing in the ears and difficulty distinguishing sounds or hearing normal conversations are often the first signs of damage. Hearing loss used to only be an adult problem, but now it's appearing as early as the teenage years.

The effects of sound on hearing are based on two factors: noise level and length of exposure. Any sound that measures over 70 dBA has the potential for causing damage, depending on how long you listen to it.

Just to give you an idea, a normal conversation measures about 60 A-weighted decibals (dBA), while a chain saw has an ear-piercing measurement of around 110 dBA. Several provinces in Canada have capped occupational noise at a maximum of no more than eight hours worth, at 85 dBA.

Let's compare that to pop music. Headphones can sure make listening in noisy or crowded situations more enjoyable, but parents should be aware of the long-term effects of doing so. Pop music sound levels on an average headphone set range from 86-102 dBA, with some topping out even higher. At 102 dBA you would only have to be exposed for twelve minutes to meet the Canadian's maximum recommendations, and at 114 dBA it would only take one minute!

In-ear headphones, or ear buds, are even worse. That's because they can form a vacuum in your ear, raising the dBA level by as much as 6-9 decibels.

The bottom line? Music can inspire greatness, but teach your kids to listen wisely. Here's what parents should do to make sure they protect the family ear drums:

  1. If you or your kids are going to use headphones, the old-fashioned, over-the-ear type, which sit farther away from your eardrum are safest.
  2. Set the volume to no more than 60 percent (some companies make software that allows parents to set the volume control).
  3. Limit listening time to one hour or less.
  4. Don't use headphones in extremely noisy situations where the volume has to be cranked up.
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