How parents are allowing kids to damage their hearing

Parents have told kids to turn their music down since Elvis Presley began making records in the 1950s.

But now the message is even more important, as audiologists are concerned that prolonged loud music through headphones could cause permanent hearing damage.

The issue recently prompted a leading researcher to say the problem amounts to "a major public health challenge coming down the road," after a study of 160 children between the ages of 11 and 17 showed that more than a quarter have issues with tinnitus, a hearing problem that mostly affects people over 50.

With about 12 percent of kids ages 6-19 experiencing hearing loss due to noise, the American Audiology Association has created a campaign called "Turn it to the Left," which refers to dialing down the volume.

Loganville mom Christina Willy said all three of her teenagers — Kaylee, 18, Brandon, 16, and Justin, 14 — use earbuds quite a bit to listen to music on their phones.

Her middle child, though, is the most frequent user. He also uses headphones to play videogames, she said. Recently, she has become concerned about his hearing.

"I don't know if it's because he has selective hearing or what, but when he has his earphones on, we can yell and he doesn't hear. It drives me nuts," she said, adding that she never realized there were safety precautions that could be taken. "It is a little bit disconcerting."

Kelly Murphy, an audiologist at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta for three years, said she doesn't often see a teenager come in and receive a new diagnosis of hearing loss. But the trend of headphone use could become very problematic.

"(Teenagers) are not coming in in droves for noise-related loss," she said. "But I think it's probably happening slowly."

Murphy said she believes teens are susceptible to mild damage now, and it will be compounded when they suffer the hearing loss that often comes with aging.

"It's catching research waves now," she said.

Murphy said she suspects the average age a person will need a hearing aid will be much younger for millennials than for previous generations.

Noise-related hearing loss — which is the only preventable kind of hearing loss — is dependent on loudness and duration, Murphy said.

A sudden loud noise, like a gunshot close to the ear, can damage hearing, she said, but so can listening to music too loudly for hours at a time.

Parents should consider investing in some precautionary measures, Murphy said.

  • Read about headphones and earbuds and consider going with an option designed to protect children's ears and limit the volume.
  • For kids who are interested in live music, use earplugs. Some venues hand them out at the door, and more expensive versions help protect the quality of the sound while lowering the volume when it hits the ears.
  • Use volume limiters on cellphones. Apple products have the limiters built in and some apps can enhance the adjustments. Androids also offer them through the Google Play store. Murphy doesn't recommend a specific limit, but said if a parent can hear the music through their child's earbud, then it is probably too loud.

For some more information on limiting the volume on your child's device, go to

"There's nothing inherently wrong about listening to music," Murphy said. "It's only if you are blasting it very loud for five or six hours a day."

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