Loud music and hearing loss

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Listening to loud music can cause auditory system damage and result in hearing loss. Hearing loss is becoming common, especially, in teenagers and young adults affecting their social development, communication skills, learning process, educational achievements and sports achievements.

Parts of the inner ear
Parts of the inner ear

Going to concerts and disco pubs, listening to loud music from home music systems or listening loud music from digital music players and devices with headphones or earbuds is potentially capable of causing hearing loss unless some preventive steps are taken.

Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH et al (JAMA. 2010;304(7):772-778. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.1124) made a comparative study of prevalence of hearing loss in young Americans and found that there was nearly a 30% increase in hearing loss in 2005-2006 when compared to the results of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), 1988-1994.

NHANES III conducted between 1988-1994 disclosed the fact that 14.9% US children between the age group of 6 to 19 years had hearing loss, probably due to hearing loud music .

The 2005-2006 study showed a significant increase of this hearing loss to 19.5% of young persons, which when extrapolated to nation’s 6-19 year old youngsters amounts to a staggering 6.5 millions.

How Loud is too Loud?
Decibels Sound Source
Firecracker, Jet take off
Ambulance siren
Rock concert, loud music
Stereo system at maximum
Power mower
City traffic
Threshold of normal hearing

According to NIDCD, approximately 15% of American of the age group 20-69 years, numbering up to 26 million Americans have high frequency hearing loss due to exposure to high Decibel sounds during occupation,  leisure activities and hearing loud music.

It is predicted that exposure to loud music may cause hearing loss in more than 50 million Americans by the year 2050.

How do we hear sound?

  • Hearing is a series of events in which airborne sound waves are translated into vibrations by ear drum.
  • These vibrations are picked up and amplified by the tiny middle ear bones malleus, incus, and stapes.
  • These bones pass on the vibration to fluid filled inner ear, cochlea, in which hair cells process these vibrations into electrical signals by release of certain chemicals.
  • These electrical signals are carried to the brain by the auditory nerve for further processing, recognition and understanding.
  • Loud sounds, exceeding 85 decibels, destroy this auditory mechanism affecting the hair cells responsible for generating ‘hearing’ electrical signals.

As the technologies have improved and longer battery life, louder volume range and greater music storage is available in personal listening devices, today’s youngsters are listening to loud music for longer periods and risk loss of hearing.

One study revealed that 25% of people in teens and early twenties listen to music at maximum levels, inviting hearing problems and loss.

Very young children are again a very vulnerable group as they themselves cannot protect their hearing from loud music. They remain passive sufferers of this noise pollution by elders and suffer hearing loss.

What we have to do to protect from hearing loss due to loud music

We have to wear foam ear plugs or ear muffs when we attend concerts. We have to use lower sound volume range while listening on earphones and earbuds as loud settings of most of the music devices are too loud and can cause hearing impairment and loss.

During high noise exposure free radicals are produced which are responsible for the impairment to auditory system and hearing loss. It is found that intake of fair amounts of foods containing antioxidants reduces the hearing loss caused by loud music, as they neutralize the free-radicals.

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1.Parts of inner ear:
Image source: NIH Medical Arts; https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/Content%20Images/NIHL-Parts-of-the-Inner-Ear.jpg
Image license: Public domain

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