Did you hear about the new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association warning that one in five teenagers now suffers from hearing loss? I know you probably often wonder if your teen ever listens to a word you say, but maybe he or she really doesn’t hear you.

There are many different causes of hearing loss, but the increased popularity of MP3 players and iPods®, especially when used with ear buds, has been recognized as a major contributor to noise-induced hearing loss. Ear buds actually can be more damaging to your hearing because they are placed directly into the ear and can increase the sound signal by as much as six to nine decibels. That’s the difference between the sound made by a vacuum cleaner and the sound of a motorcycle engine.

Ear buds don’t block unwanted sound, so kids increase the volume to hear the music. Portable music players also have a longer battery life and a capacity to hold and play lots of music. This encourages kids to listen longer, which also increases the risk for potential hearing loss.

Noise-induced hearing loss happens when the tiny hair cells in your ears are damaged. The inner ear contains thousands of these hair cells, and sound causes them to vibrate. This sends a signal to your brain so you can understand what you hear.

Compare the hair cells in your ear to blades of grass and loud music to people stepping on the grass. If one person walks across the grass, the grass bends but quickly springs back up. If 50 people walk across the grass over and over, it doesn’t have time to recover and eventually becomes permanently damaged—just like your child’s hearing.

So how loud is too loud? If you can hear the music coming from your child’s iPod or MP3 player, the volume is too loud. To make sure your child is using these devices safely, remember the 60 percent and 60 minute rule. Hearing specialists recommend listening to portable music players with ear buds at 60 percent of their maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes a day.

-Laurie Newton RN, CPNP, pediatric nurse practitioner, Otolaryngology, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Clinics-New Berlin.

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