Now, according to research conducted by the World Health Organization, 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of experiencing hearing loss. Specifically, half of individuals aged 12 to 35-years-old expose their ears to “unsafe” sound levels when using audio devices and about 40 percent expose their ears to “potentially damaging” sound levels at entertainment venues.
As Dr. Etienne Krug, WHO Director for the Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention told ABC, “As they go about their daily lives doing what they enjoy, more and more young people are placing themselves at risk of hearing loss.” She also warns that once an individual experiences hearing loss, “It won’t come back.”
The National Institute of Deafness and Communication Disorders carefully explains the science behind noise-induced hearing loss on their website. Essentially, hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the hair cells, sensory cells that rest on top of the basilar membrane and are sensitive to sound waves.
When sound enters the cochlea, hair cells move causing the microscopic hair-like projections (sterocilia) sitting on top of the hair cells to bend. This bending motion then results in the opening of protein channels that allow chemicals to enter the hair cell, which generates an electrical signal that is sent to the brain and interpreted as sound. Thus, the death of these cells means that some (or all) sound waves cannot be transmitted to the brain via the movement of the hair cells and sterocilia (hence the loss of hearing).
In order to prevent hearing loss, WHO has suggested that people limit the use of headphones to one hour a day and also recommends that individuals avoid spending more than 8 hours in a workplace with 85 (or more) decibels of sound (bars and sporting events typically have around 100 decibels of noise).
Though some hearing loss can be temporary, it is important to note that hearing loss can be experienced due to a sudden, loud noise in addition to repeated, prolonged exposure to certain noises. If a person is experiencing hearing loss, it’s best for him or her to contact a physician to determine the extent of damage, if any.
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