I’ve started to use earbuds a lot. Like a lot a lot…like every day. Just like so many other people you see on the street, and many teens, I use earbuds daily to make phone calls, listen to music or podcasts or engage while I stream videos. On the plane, always. And on a bad day or a sad day, no question I love to turn the music way up when I go for a run.

Turns out I’ve got to make some changes. The 60/60 rule has gotta start soon (keeping volume no more than 60%, listening for no more than 60 minutes at a time).

I’m not alone. We’re seeing more and more adults and teens with hearing-loss related to earbud use and loud sounds from digital devices. This problem is growing. Data on how using earphones and earbuds, in particular, they change what we hear, how we hear it, and how the placement of a speaker deeper into your ear can contribute to irreversible hearing loss is worth our attention. Hearing loss from loud sounds isn’t recoverable  — meaning once you damage the little hair cells deep in your ear they don’t grow back — that hearing is lost for good. When it comes to our hearing, we do therefore really matters at any time in our life.

Earbuds, particularly when put up at high volume, deliver louder sound exposures than over-the-ear headphones. They also deliver them directly into the ear. They sound awesome because of it but they carry bigger risks when it comes to damaging precious hearing.

Most adolescents with hearing loss demonstrate high-frequency hearing loss (HFHL), which is often related to noise exposure. Specifically, the use of earbuds and headphones when listening to music is adding to the rising concern. Due to the damage that is occurring during adolescent years, it’s leading to high numbers of adults with hearing loss. A few statistics:

  • 1 in 6 adolescents has HFHL caused by exposed to loud noises, such as music played through headphones.
  • 1.1 billion 12 to 35 year olds across the world are at risk of hearing loss due to exposure.
  • In the US, the number of 20+ year olds with hearing loss is expected to reach 44 million in 2020 and 74 million by 2060. Yikes.

How to Protect Your Child’s Hearing

  1. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends having your teen screened for hearing damage at higher tones at ages: 11 to 14, 15 to 17, and 18 to 21. This is typically done at a regular well child check-up.
  2. Enforce the 60/60 Rule: Volume should be less than 60% and you should take breaks every 60 minutes. Long exposures to loud sounds do more damage so taking breaks between listening does save hearing. Other ways to help with volume — you (ahem) and your children should be able to hear what’s going on around them while listening to the music. Also, if you’re walking by and can hear their music coming out of the headphones, it’s too loud!
  3. Invest in good noise-canceling headphones — these allow you to listen in loud locations (i.e. the airplane or busy school bus) without turning the volume up pat 50%. The noise-canceling mechanism helps drown out outside noise mitigating the need for super high volumes.
  4. Make sure earphones (of any kind) are a proper fit. Better fit can help prevent sound leakage, so we don’t turn the volume up as high and thus avoid the exposure.