You don?t need an expert to tell you that the current generation is going to need hearing aids sooner than later. Just sit at a stop sign and feel the vibration of the automobile-turned-boom-box five cars back. Decibels are the culprit, and it isn?t just boom boxes booming that causes problems. MP3 players and iPods have been cited as potentially hazardous to your tender ears, also.
But don?t rush to put the blame on technology yet. Researcher Sharon Curhan, physician at Harvard Medical School said that while noise exposure is a known culprit, she says diet, medical care, lack of exercise and obesity might also play a role. Children below the poverty line are more likely to suffer hearing loss than those from more financially secure families. However, Curhan says poverty may result from poor hearing, not cause it.
Whatever the reasons, hearing loss in adolescents has increased since the 1990?s. Those with any hearing loss – defined as a loss of 15 decibels in at least one ear – went up 4.6 percent according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Ear buds were judged safe when used properly according to Cory Portnuff, audiologist, who led a smaller study with Colorado University and Boston Children?s Hospital. They determined that listening to ear buds, or in-ear headphones, for 90 minutes a day at 80 percent volume is probably safe for long-term hearing. However, the risk of permanent hearing loss can increase with just five minutes of exposure per day to music at full volume. The delicate hair cells in the inner ear that transform sound waves to the electrical signals the brain interprets as sound are damaged.
A 2006 law suit in Louisiana charged that iPods were "not sufficiently adorned with adequate warnings regarding the likelihood of hearing loss." Another action against Apple last year claimed that iPods capable of producing sound as loud as 115 decibels pose a danger because of their lack of volume meters or noise-isolating properties. In the US Court of Appeals case, Birdsong et al. v. Apple, the court decided that the plaintiffs showed ways they believe iPods could be made safer, not that they were dangerous.
However, in a response to the demands of health officials in France, Apple revised its software to set the maximum volume at 100 dB, the equivalent of standing next to a pneumatic drill, for devices sold in Europe. There is also now a warning with each iPod urging users to avoid hearing damage by setting the volume at safe levels. [Brings to mind the "Don?t do that" comment when Jobs passed the responsibility of dropped iPhone calls to the customer?s use of the device instead of correcting the device itself.]
One of reasons for youth cranking the volume all the way up is the unfortunate fact that most headphones on the market feature inadequate isolation of environment noise. Going with 3rd party in-ear phones such as noise-cancelling type may actually save your ears – listening to music at 50-60dB with 50-80dB canceled out gives you equal or even better music experience than just listening at 100dB with all the environment noises still coming in.
Dr. Brian J. Fligor, Director of Diagnostic Audiology at Children’s Hospital in Boston, says volume isn?t the only problem. So called "safe ear buds" that restrict volume to 85 dB or less don?t control the length of time they are used. The formula "dBs + minutes = hearing loss" should be considered. Fligor contends: "It’s not just the volume; it’s also how long the listener is exposed to loud volume."
The American Speech Language Hearing Association [ASHA] has launched a "Listen To Your Buds" public education campaign. They are attempting to prevent noise-induced hearing loss by helping parents teach their children how to use personal audio technology safely.
ASHA cites the following symptoms of hearing impairment. You might recognize some of them from interacting with Grandpa, but it is occurring now with children as well.
- Misunderstanding what is said
- Wanting things repeated
- Turning up the volume on the TV
- Behavior problems
- Speech or language problems
- Difficulty localizing sounds
- Problems following verbal instructions
If you don?t heed the warnings, hearingaids101.com lists at least 10 different companies that make hearing aids. They explain that hearing aids are comprised of a microphone to gather sound and convert it to electrical impulses, an amplifier to increase the strength of the impulses, a receiver to transform the electrical impulses back into sound waves and redirect them into the ear, plus a computer chip if the aid is a programmable one.
Pricing can run from inexpensive to $5,000 if you want one with the latest technology. The question is: Can technology fix what technology has wrought?
The last piece in the hearing aid?s performance that makes it all work is the lowly battery which needs constant replacing. And that brings us to my premise that not gold, but hearing aid batteries are the investment of choice for future wealth.