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Recent studies report as many as 1 in 5 teens have hearing loss.

Listening to music is a soothing, popular activity for our kids. Be careful, however, that listening to music doesn't end up reducing your child's overall ability to hear! A study by the Harvard-affiliated Brigham & Women's Hospital found 20% of teenagers to have irreversible hearing loss. The suspected cause is prolonged exposure to noise.

Headphones and Earbuds

Sounds heard through headphone and earbuds are magnified. Earbuds are particularly worrisome. I do not recommend any child younger than 12 use them on a routine basis.

Loud noise (yes, even music) can cause damage to the nerve fibers of the inner ear responsible for processing sound. Noise-induced hearing loss can be the result of exposure to a one-time loud sound, or the accumulated effect of loud noise over time.

When caused by noise levels over time, the damage happens slowly and may not be noticed until a significant portion of hearing is gone.

How loud is the sound?

You can help your children understand just how loud the music they are listening to really is. Music listened to at the maximum volume setting (105 decibels) can cause damage in as little as 5 minutes. Exposure to a single sound at or above 120 decibels can cause damage in 9 seconds time. Here are some sound levels to help you see the potential danger.

Sound Decibels Time before damage may occur
Normal speech 60 No limit on time
Lawn mower 100 15 minutes
Personal stereo at high volume 105 5 minutes
Chainsaw 110 1.5 minutes
Ambulance Siren 120 9 seconds
Firecrackers 140 Immediate damage without hearing protection


When you will be exposed to sounds longer than the time shown above, hearing protection is recommended.

Watch for symptoms

Hearing loss can affect your child's ability to do well in school, as well as interact with others. If you notice symptoms such as these, contact your child's physician.

  • Your child complains of ringing or buzzing in the ear.
  • You notice your child having difficulty understanding conversation in places with noise.
  • Your child reports that sounds are muffled - or that he feels his ear is plugged.
  • You are asked to turn the volume of the television or radio up to a higher level than before.

Focus on prevention

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC recommend limiting the use of headphones and in-ear devices. Both recommend the volume be turned no louder than 60% of maximum. Limit the use of headphones to no more than 60 minutes each day.

Unfortunately, noise-induced hearing is irreversible. It is important to prevent the loss from occurring.

Remember the 60/60 rule: 60% of volume for no more than 60 minutes each day.

Rosann Nichols, MD

Methodist Physicians Clinic Hawthorne Court (178 & Q)

Dr. Nichols answers your questions about child health and parenting. As a mom of three children, she tells her patients that she is in the parenting trenches with them and she can relate to what they are going through. She enjoys answering questions from her patients and their parents and helping parents adapt to the changes a growing family brings. She builds trust with parents and helps them understand that they are not alone and that they can call her office anytime if they have a quest ...

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