Exposure to noise from recreational items has been a source of great concern for health experts for years now. Sources which can induce hearing loss can include anything from toys to vehicles to personal music players.
There have been several studies which have documented these effects and shown how these dangers not only exist in the external environment, they can also be a part of an individual’s work space.
This paper will address the difficulties face by hearing health officials, community organizations and governments in nurturing and executing programs which are targeted at young adults faced with the danger of noise induced hearing loss.
What is Noise Induced Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss or NIHL is a clinical term used to describe a constant loss of hearing which can occur following exposure to high noise levels. If the level of exposure is limited, the changes are reversible.
Constantly experiencing such intense sounds at continuous or repeated intervals however, can cause irreversible damage to the cochlea and its surrounding structures leading to a form of hearing loss which is irreversible. This loss of hearing is known as a permanent threshold shift (Reid, 2005).
Primary causes of NIHL
While it is true that workplace noise may be the primary cause of NIHL, exposure to excessive noise due to recreational devices is also a major risk factor that warrants attention. Such concerns have existed since the creation of home entertainment amplifiers in the 1950s.
The current trend of miniaturized personal music players has caused the spread of this hazard throughout the general public. Additionally, accessibility and popularity of live music, sports and hunting events may also negate any advantages hearing protection programs establish in the workplace.
A study by the Australian National Acoustics Laboratory showed that at least 25% of the individuals using personal music players were at risk of developing NIHL from listening to constant music at an excess of 85dB. In 2006 a lawsuit was brought against Apple reasoning that their portable music device the iPod could reach a volume of over 115dB causing damage within 30 seconds of use and was thus manufactured to be defective. In France this very product is restricted to volumes of 100dB due to compulsory sound regulations established there (Reid, 2005).
Other examples of loud music being a prime culprit can be seen in a study conducted by the Hearing Association in Nelson found that the average sound exposure in nightclubs can range from 97.4dB to 120dB.
The use of firearms is the primary cause of NIHL in the United States among recreational users. It is estimated that only 1% of such users employ head protection while using firearms. Small caliber weapons can release sound pressure up to 140dB while large bore weapons have a noise level peaking at 170dB (Reid, 2005).
While it is true that continuous exposure to loud sounds causes hearing loss over time. A single loud sound can also result in hearing loss which studies show can last up to a year in 1 to 16 year olds. Other effects can include metabolic changes and also learning disabilities. Young Adults who use personal music devices have been shown to exhibit changes associated with NIHL such as loss of balance and threshold shifts.
A study conducted by Vogel, Brug, Hosli, Ploeg and Raat into the personal perception of adolescents and young adults found that their preferred listening level was normally at maximum volume. Though there was a difference in use in the case of young adults who used them occasionally in comparison with adolescents who used them frequently, reasoning’s for loud volume usage ranged from drowning out background noise to wanting to hear a song clearly.
They only listened at a low volume when concentration was required on their part such as in cases of doing homework or trying to sleep. When asked if they knew of the consequences of such exposure, they said they understood that loud music can cause hearing loss but could not quantify what was loud for them, they did not believe that they were listening to loud music.
The study further explored factors related to behavior, technology and parental intervention which could act as potential solutions (Vogel, Brug, Hosli, Ploeg, & Raat, 2008).
Another epidemiological survey on 1364 individuals conducted by Bisch found that subjects who used personal cassette players extensively and went to rock concerts exhibited a higher hearing threshold due to auditory damage than those who did not. In comparison he found that individuals who went to the disco on average showed no hearing loss (Bisch, 1996).
In deference to these two studies a study on the use of iPods and hearing health found that most college students knew how to use their iPods conscientiously and there was only a selected percentage which engaged in the risky behavior of listening to music at high levels (Danhauer, et al., 2009).