Hearing Loss by the Numbers

Personal Music Devices Causing Deafness?

A study suggests that increased usage of portable music players and earbuds has led to significant hearing loss in today’s youth. Many contend that hearing loss is being exaggerated and people are not going deaf any faster than they have in the past. I will make a case for the idea that not only are we going deaf faster than we have in the past, but that our technology has a direct effect on that loss even if you are not a regular user of personal music devices. The simple answer is yes, Personal Music Devices such as the iPod or Zune do contribute to hearing loss and will continue to do so in the future until people understand the nature of hearing. Yes, we use them more than we did in the past, their sales are skyrocketing and there is no end in sight. This is a problem because the earbuds direct sound right into the ear canal effectively destroying hearing at the source. As to what I would do about it, I do not own one. My hearing is safe…

Lets get a bit deeper into the subject, shall we? 

  • Is the use of Personal Music Devices such as the Zune or iPod a cultural trend that will pass or is it something that will continue growing greater with each year?
  • Why the need to play music all the time–are such music listeners avoiding personal growth issues by simply drowning out the need to listen to internal dialogue that might be beneficial for personal development?
  • Why are so many young people unaware of the damage they are doing to their hearing listening to music at 120 to 140 decibels directly into their ear canal?
  • Whatever the actual reason the problem is only going to get worse and the results of that problem are able to be described in a few paragraph for all of you suffering from short attentions spans.

When you lose your hearing (notice when, not if), you will lose an entire world of abilities that you currently take for granted: 

You will lose your music, the thing you loved so well, you played your iPod or Zune or (insert brand name here) until it deafened you. You will never hear those sounds again. You may feel the vibrations if you get close enough to a loud speaker, but subtlety of sound is lost to you. Gone will be one of the greatest artistic expressions of the human species, second only to speaking; music. 

You will never hear a Gregorian chant, a symphony in D minor, the acappella sounds of African tribes who sing like angels, the sonorous majesty of a bagpipe on the moors, the roar of an African lion on a veldt that you won’t get to see for another two decades from now, long after your last hearing has vanished completely. 

You will never hear your child’s voice or your grandchildren asking you to pick them up or run with them. No sound so sweet will ever grace your ears. You will lose the ability to drive, because you cannot hear the sounds of emergency vehicles, or the sound of horns warning you of impending danger. 

You will never receive a phone call without the use of some form of teletype or close captioning technology. You may not consider that much of a burden with the advances of technology and the prevalence of texting, but your hands (and your thumbs) will not be young forever, repetitive stress WILL catch up to you… 

You will never hear the sounds of running water. If you haven’t stopped to appreciate it, get out to a water fountain in a park and sit and listen to it. I know you are busy, but slow down and just sit there for a half an hour. Feel the calm that washes over you. That will be gone as well. You will never hear the sound of your lover’s voice, or their breath in your ear. If you know what I am talking about, (and sooner or later you will) nothing will ever replace THAT sound. 

The sounds of your friends voices will be gone, the sounds of your television will be gone, the sounds of your movies will be gone. If you doubt those sounds are important, you can get a set of sound cancellation headphones and wear them for a week. Wear them everywhere. Notice how empty your world will appear. Everything is still there, but you simply won’t be participating at the same level. 

Don’t forget to learn to read lips (if you are a spy, you are already ahead of the curve), because most people will not know sign language; oh, I forgot to mention, you might want to learn to sign, since you are now considered disabled and might need an interpreter for legal documents, or medical procedures, or to even speak to anyone with any speed. 

And many of you will say, SO WHAT! I hate my life anyway, that is why I listen to ThrashPunkSoulDestroyer at 150 db (decibels) in the first place! It is to you I say, you may not always hate life. And what a terrible price it would be to discover that you love life only to realize that you will never hear it again. 

For those who have gotten this far, I wanted to say, thanks for reading on. I believe that such noise generating technology only adds to the overwhelming amount of noise pollution already being generated by our world at large. If you live in an industrial or urban area, just walking the street exposes you to approximately 80-90 decibels of sound before you do anything else. Most people will put on their ear-buds (which channel the music directly into the ear canal) and turn it up loud enough to drown out the external noises. This means you are getting a full dose of sound, powerful enough to damage the ear drum at 100 decibels. That is the equivalent of a railroad train passing you at 5 feet!

It is a proven fact, the longer you listen to high intensity sound, the more damage you do to your eardrum. Human ears were designed (use that word loosely, I don’t want arguments over WHO designed the human ear) to listen to the sound level of a human voice or human voices in limited numbers. Most of our technology exceeds the threshold of the human voice with almost no effort. This includes lawnmowers, motorcycles, airplanes, and my personal nemesis (for which I see almost no utility whatsoever,) the Sunday morning, I am trying to sleep in, god-dammit I am hung over, sleep destroying from 100 meters, leaf-blower!

Okay, lets get to some facts.

  1. Once hearing is lost, it can never be recovered.
  2. The human ear can hear a range of sounds.
  3. As the ear takes damage, the range of sound is diminished.
  4. A condition called tinnitus (also known as ringing in the ears) is the ear’s way of letting you know that you are losing access to a range of sounds.
  5. When sufficient ranges are lost, hearing loss is said to be occurring.
  6. Hearing loss is natural in humans, even those that live in rural settings due to the lessening of effectiveness of the ear’s sound generating mechanism, but this process should take many years and would normally not be an issue until the early 60’s.
  7. With the preponderance of high intensity, steady-state noise most people are subjected to, we have seen a loss of hearing ability, earlier and earlier even in people who do not use personal music devices.Within the PMD crowd, we are expecting to see catastrophic numbers of people losing some range or possibly nearly all range of conversational hearing capabilities, due to their listening to music at catastrophic volumes equivalent to a high level rock concert for at least 4 hours a day (120-130 decibels, the equivalent of 12 to 14 times greater sound energy than the normally safest range of sound for the human ear!)

The science of sound: 

A simple definition of noise is – any unwanted sound. Yes, this means you with your iPod playing at 11 and I can hear you across the subway train that I am riding on. Yes the subway train at 110 db, and I can still hear your music more than 15 feet way from me. Yes, I hear your crappy rock band and wish I could be somewhere else but in nearly ever direction is someone else doing the same stupid thing. My only consolation is that in 15 years, I won’t have to put up with this because all of you will be deaf, and my stock in hearing aid companies will be skyrocketing!

Noise is measured in decibels and the scale often employed dB(A) is weighted to the range perceived by the human ear. The decibel system is frequently misinterpreted as it is based on a logarithmic scale. This means that a sound level of 100dB(A) contains twice the energy of a sound level of 97dB(A).

A rise of 10 dB in sound level corresponds roughly to a doubling of subjective loudness. Therefore a sound of 80 dB is twice as loud as a sound of 70 dB which is twice as loud as a sound of 60 dB. Correspondingly, the 80 dB sound is 4 times louder than the 60 dB sound.

Distance plays an important role in the perceived sound level. Sound levels decrease by approximately 6 dB every time the distance from the source is doubled. Sound levels inside a property will be approximately 10dB less than those outside, even when a window is open.

Noise not only affects hearing. It affects other parts of the body and body systems. It is now known that noise:

  1. Increases blood pressure
  2. Has negative cardiovascular effects such as changing the way the heart beats
  3. Increases breathing rate
  4. Disturbs digestion
  5. Can cause an upset stomach or ulcer
  6. Can negatively impact a developing foetus and possibly contribute to premature birth
  7. Makes it difficult to sleep, even after the noise stops
  8. Intensifies the effects of factors such as drugs, alcohol, carbon monoxide and ageing
  9. In fact research now suggests that noise may be causing 2000-4000 deaths annually as a result of an increase in cardiovascular disease

Example Sound Levels


With all of this new science around how sound affects us, it is not a surprise that the term “noise pollution” is gaining traction as a viable source of potential problem for most urban dwellers.

It is difficult to say whether this trend can be stopped. Most people simply do not know enough about hearing to be worried about its potential loss. They believe hearing aids will restore their ability to hear (they won’t, they cannot give you back ranges of sound you have lost, they simply move the sound into a range you may still be able to hear, but there is quality lost) or that science will find a cure for this inconvenience. It may, but no time soon, definitely not in time for our Generation Y and Millenials to have hearing after the age of 40 or so. Likely no scientific research on the restoration of hearing at this point will be helping the deliberate loss of hearing that will be occurring in epic proportions in the next twenty to thirty years. Once it is gone, it is gone forever. Buy stock in hearing aid companies, I see big business soon!

In closing, I say to you this: You do not have to value your hearing. You can dispose of it just like you would any other natural resource that you started life with — your liver, your kidneys, your heart, your brain; you are free to do with those things what you like, they belong to you. But remember, once you lose the natural bounty that is yours; your senses, your means of interacting with the world and all of the inherent things that make life worth living will seem a little less bright.

And yes there are people who live without those senses right now, but not by choice and most would gladly trade places with you for an hour of what you have thrown away, simply because you were too unaware of its value to consider it important. Like most things human, you won’t miss it until its gone.