Noise Induced Hearing Loss

The Facts About NIHL

NIHL stands for noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), and it is the reason that hearing loss is a growing health issue worldwide. The Hearing Health Foundation goes so far as to say, “globally, it is an unseen epidemic.”

While you might assume that this health issue only affects the elderly or Baby Boomers who attended too many Woodstocks, teenagers are among those being hit hardest by NIHL.

“One in five teenagers suffer from at least slight hearing loss, a significant rise from a decade ago, when the rate was only one in seven.” This is according to a 2010 story in the New York Times based on a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The article went on to say, “… youngsters often say they are not being exposed to loud noise because they are simply unaware they are listening to music at dangerously high levels, said the paper’s lead author...”

Another reputable source, the Journal of Pediatrics, reports that 12.5 percent of kids between the ages of 6 and 19 suffer from loss of hearing as a result of using ear phones/buds turned to a high volume.

If you extrapolate these figures, it means 4 to 6.5 million teenagers have lost enough hearing to be unable to hear a whisper or rustling leaves. And they will never get it back. Damage to auditory nerves is permanent and cumulative. By the time these teens are retirement age, they may have a debilitating hearing loss.

What Causes NIHL?

It’s a noisy world, and getting louder by the day. (Check out this website sponsored by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders) Most kids are exposed to too much noise – dishwashers, blenders, televisions, cafeterias, sirens, firecrackers, jet engines, MP3 players – and over time, exposure to loud noise can cause NIHL.

How Loud is Too Loud?

Sound is measured in decibels. Even after long exposure, sounds of less than 75 decibels are unlikely to cause hearing loss. As the decibel level goes up, however, the risk of damage increases. At 85 decibels and above, long or repeated exposure can cause hearing loss. The louder the sound, the shorter the time it takes to damage hearing.

Consider that the average MP3 player has an output of 105 decibels. If your child listens to music at anywhere near maximum volume for prolonged periods, he or she is losing a little bit of hearing every day.

5 Things You Can Do To Protect Your Child's Hearing

  1. Get headphones that limit volume to 85 decibels. It’s not okay for them to go up to 100 decibels. 85 tops.
  2. Don’t buy earbuds or any in-ear model for children. The closer the sound source is to the delicate working of the inner ear, the more damage loud sound can do. Stick to headphones.
  3. Make sure the headphones you buy are “noise attenuating.” That means they block out sound from a noisy environment like a cafeteria. If your child uses headphones that do not provide good attenuation, she will want to turn up the volume to compensate for the noise.
  4. Limit the amount of time your child listens to headphones. This is hard, but worth it. While hearing can be damaged from a single, loud sound, like a bomb going off, hearing loss happens most often when kids listen to loud music for extended periods of time. By all means do not let your kids sleep with earbuds in their ears.
  5. Take your child to a park and teach him to appreciate the sounds of nature. Bird song, wind in the trees, even silence is beautiful. In our noisy world we don’t hear these sounds enough.


  • Hearing Health Foundation
  • National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders (NIDCD)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • The Journal for the American Medical Association
  • American Family Physician