Hearing loss trend is loud and clear, say experts

Our habit of plugging in - whether to music, podcasts or online games - is wreaking havoc with the delicate technology that comes as standard equipment on either side of our heads - aka, our ears.

The evidence is loud and clear. Hearing loss is growing problem. The good news? There are simple steps you can take to protect yourself and your family. 

We heard a lot in this pandemic year about the devastating impact of screens on our kids’ vision.

Now it turns out - not surprisingly - that headphones and earbuds are doing a similar number on our hearing, as more and more of us, at younger and younger ages, spend our waking hours quite literally plugged in. 

Right now, one in six Australians suffers from hearing loss. But by 2050, that number is tipped to rise to one in four, according to Macquarie University Hearing professor David McAlpine.

New research has found that the average hearing of people under age 50 has worsened significantly over the past two decades. It’s no coincidence that this timeframe coincides with a steep rise in the use of audio devices.

Audiologists believe that chronic noise exposure from our portable devices, aimed directly into the delicate structures of our ears, is a major contributing factor. 

And the worst part? Hearing loss is irreversible. Once the damage is done, it cannot be undone.

Right now, one in six Australians suffers from hearing loss. But by 2050, that number is tipped to rise to one in four.

And it can happen in just 15 minutes. When the volume on headphones goes louder than 100 decibels, that’s all the time it takes to do permanent harm.

This is something you won’t read about in the packaging on your new set of earbuds. As a result, “many people assume devices they use are safe and have built-in protection that means you can just enjoy it,” says Dr. Peter Carew, a University of Melbourne audiology lecturer. “It’s not the case.”

In addition to the decibel level, duration of listening is the other big factor. Studies show we can safely listen to sound at 85 decibels for eight hours, for example.

But with every three decibels of increase, the period of safe listening halves. So if you’re listening to music at 94 decibels, say, your ears will be vulnerable after only 60 minutes. 

Hearing loss is irreversible. Once the damage is done, it cannot be undone.

Which is all well and good - but how are you supposed to know the decibel level you’re hearing at any given moment? What makes it even more difficult is that our perception of sound is always relative to the environment.

In a noisy room, or on a busy city street, music played at an average level will sound too soft. In a silent setting, you’ll be able to comfortably hear the same music at much lower levels. 

What you can do to prevent hearing loss

  • Adjust settings. Yes, there IS a way to limit the decibel level of your, or your child’s, smartphone or tablet. On Apple devices, go to Settings>Sounds & Haptics>Headphone Safety. From there, simply adjust the slider to limit decibels. Experts recommend dropping it down to 75 decibels.
  • Switch to noise-cancelling devices. Yes, they’re more expensive. But headphones and in-ear devices that cancel outside noise are safer - simply because they block the noise in the environment that would otherwise cause you to crank up the volume. And headphones are regarded are safer than earbuds when used excessively.
  • Go on a noise diet now and then. It’s like a digital de-tox, only for your ears. If your kids are spending too much time plugged in, make sure they take their ears on regular holidays. Limiting exposure will not only protect their ears, it will enable them to enjoy sound for longer. 
  • Savour the sounds of silence. Experts recommend no more than an hour of headphone use before taking a break. And two to three hours of exposure a day should be the max.

Family Zone lets you manage your children's screen-time - and their listening time - on every device, everywhere.

Create a home where digital children thrive, and start your free trial today.




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Topics: Cyber Bullying, Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, Excessive Device Usage, wireless headphones, noise-cancelling headphones, hearing loss, earbuds

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