Dangers of Decibels

Your hearing is a wonderful and delicately balanced system. Three small bones in the middle ear conduct the sound you hear in the outside world into electrical impulses that go to your brain and interpret the sound. But, the range of hearing - especially among young people - is diminishing as the loudness of their musical devices increases.

Hearing intensity is measured in decibels (dB). At 0 decibels, you can hear sounds that are near to total silence. At the 20 decibel level, you are hearing sounds just above a whisper. On the other end of the scale, listening to a jet engine is pushing 120 decibels. The human ear can distinguish all of these sounds when your hearing is normal. After damage has been done, however, your decibel range is limited.

One reason that hearing becomes impaired is listening to loud sounds for long periods of time. Musicians are a group that is no stranger to hearing problems. Listening to loud music can be physically painful to your ears. At that point, the damage has already been done.

Kids and adults alike are now accustomed to listening to iPods. These devices use earphones or can be hooked up to speakers. Mostly, they are listened to on the go so earphones or “ear buds” are used. Ear buds fit inside the ear and deliver an intense sound through your middle and inner ear. With earphones, the volume of the iPod can be turned down for more comfortable listening.

Unfortunately, many kids turn the volume up. If you can hear music from another iPod when the earphones are being used, the sound is way too loud for the listener. Any sound above 80-90 decibels is too loud. Listening to that level of sound for over ninety minutes a day will result in hearing damage. Over time, the damage gets worse and can result in permanent hearing loss.

What is not totally understood is why the specialized hearing cells in the inner ear do not regenerate. Once they are destroyed, there are no new ones to replace them. These hearing cells are called “hair cells.”

Sound is turned into electrical impulses when the hair cells begin to move. These cells can take a lot of damage and still function if given time to recover. But, loud sustained sound day in and day out will cause these cells to die and at that point, hearing loss is permanent.

If you must listen to your mp3 player or your iPod, turn the volume down. Try noise-cancelling earphones that filter out extraneous noises so you can listen to your music at a lower volume. At loud rock concerts, carry earplugs. Believe it or not, you’ll still hear the music with them inserted. Instead of turning the television up, ask everyone to lower their voices or take their conversation into another room. Cranking up the volume damages everyone’s ears.

It’s okay to listen to your music - just not so loud. Higher decibel noises cause permanent hearing loss in the young and the old alike. Take precautions to protect your ears.