Hearing Loss

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

In a society obsessed with health, one of our great oversights is the protection of our hearing. When our lifestyle shifted from stereos to portable music devices, we added headphones and earbuds.

But what are the effects of listening to music this way?

Just ask yourself these questions:

- Do you ask people to repeat themselves?
- Need the TV volume louder than others?
- Have trouble listening in noisy environments?
- Do you hear ringing in your ears?
- Or if you do hear, but have difficultly understanding what people are saying?

If your answer is yes to any of these questions, you may have suffered a hearing loss. With so many people listening to music, next to their eardrums, the incidence of hearing loss has increased dramatically.

Many studies have been done warning of the dangers of listening to music through headphones. The issue is not just the volume of the music, but also the duration of time that you listen. The louder the music, the shorter your listening time. A good rule is 60% / 60 minutes. You can maintain hearing health if you listen to music for no more than an hour a day at 60% of the volume. Never listen to music through headphones at full strength. Medical professionals agree that listening at that level will cause hearing loss.

The specific condition is called Sensorineural hearing loss, which is caused by repeatedly prolonged exposure to loud noises. The damage occurs in the inner part of the ear that connects to the brain. The result, is the kind of damage that manifests years down the road, when you are sitting in a noisy bar trying to understand the person next to you.

Last year, the European Commission ordered the makers of all portable music players to make their default volume 80 decibels. Here in the US, players reach 115 to 125 decibels. With a US device, listening at full strength can cause hearing damage within five to 30 minutes. To give you a sense of how loud that is, 115 decibels is the equivalent to standing next to a sand blaster or chain saw. It only takes a few minutes to cause hearing loss at that level.

The solution to hearing loss is education. Apple has a volume limit on their iPods and iPhones, located in the settings function. Essentially, it caps the maximum volume to your desired amount.

Other devices have similar limiters. Take a proactive approach to caring for your ears the way you care for the rest of your body.

If you want to learn more about this important subject, go to the On the Beat webpage at www.kcrw.com and follow the links.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat.

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