Why the Majority of Today's Teens are at Risk of Hearing Loss

Teen hearing damage
Compassionate Eye Foundation /Justin Pumfrey / Digital Vision / Getty Images

If you're like most parents of teens, you've warned your teen she’ll damage her hearing if she doesn’t stop listening to loud music. And if your child is like most teens, your concern probably doesn't alarm her. In fact, she may even remind you of the many times you’d told her that when you were a teen, you went to rock concerts and listened to loud music on your parent’s home stereo, and since you haven’t had any hearing loss, why should you worry?

The Research Is In

In fact, there’s plenty to worry about. Nearly half of all 12 to 35 year olds listen to “unsafe levels of sound from the use of personal audio devices and around 40 percent are exposed to potentially damaging levels of sound at entertainment venues,” according to to the World Health Organization. That means that almost half of all teens may be causing irreversible damage to their hearing.

Personal audio devices, which include smartphones, earbuds and headphones, and entertainment venues, such as live sporting events and rock concerts, present serious risks for today’s teens.

The 1980s Were Different

Although you may have listened to loud music without suffering any damage to your hearing, the times have changed. In the 1980s and 90s, the incidence of teen hearing loss was nowhere near as high as it is today, according to a study published in the “Journal of the American Medical Association.” In fact, in the 21st century, hearing loss is 30 percent higher among teens than it was 20 and 30 years ago.

Now, one in five teens -- or about 6.5 million people in the U.S. – have some form of hearing loss, according to the JAMA.

That the incidence of hearing loss has increased may seem surprising because we’ve been bombarded for years with the news that listening to loud music can cause hearing loss – so it would be a reasonable assumption to think we’ve learned to avoid these risks.

The JAMA study involved 3,000 teen boys and girls, however, and the results clearly showed some form of hearing loss among teens.

In fact, teens now listen to music twice as long as they did in previous generations and at higher volumes than in previous generations, thanks in part to the proliferation of personal audio devices.

How Loud Is Too Loud?

Any volume above 85 decibels for eight hours is too loud. So are sound levels of 100 decibels for as short as 15 minutes.

What this means in everyday terms is that a sound level of 85 or 90 decibels is equivalent to a train whistle, and sound levels of 100 decibels is equivalent to riding in a snowmobile.

A mere 15 minutes at a loud rock concert can blast up to 115 decibels. Ear pain begins at 125 DB, and live rock music at its peak can hit up to 150 decibels.

What Are the Consequences?

  • Hearing loss -- temporary or permanent. Temporary hearing loss or tinnitus will go away, but permanent hearing can continue to worsen with age.
  • Any hearing loss will make learning more difficult for a teen. Teens with even minor hearing loss may miss subtle clues between people, which may cause a teen to feel left out of the social sphere.
  • A teen with hearing loss will find learning more difficult.
  • A teen with hearing loss may find it more difficult to find employment.
  • Hearing loss can present physical and mental health concerns.

What Should Parents Do?

  • Use an app to limit the volume on your teen’s smartphone.
  • Limit your teen's electronics use and audio players for no more than one hour a day.
  • Teens should wear ear protection when in noisy environments, such as working in shop class or going to live concerts.




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