Why millennials are Generation Deaf

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HOLLAND, Mich. -- "Turn that down before you go deaf" is a common phrase parents use on their kids, and according to experts those parents are right.

Dr. Joe Vandermeer, a physician from Lakeshore Health Partners, says kids who listen to loud music are experiencing hearing loss more than ever before.

Dr. Joe Vandermeer

Dr. Joe Vandermeer

The World Health Organization is warning that more than 1 million young people are at risk for hearing loss from personal audio devices, concerts, even mowing the lawn. That's why some are calling the millennials Generation Deaf.

We see it all of the time: teens and adults walking along wearing headphones or earbuds, tuning out the real world. Sometimes, the music that is drowning out the sounds of everyday life can be literally deafening.

Model of ear

According to Dr. Vandermeer, our ears are like microphones plugged into our brain, and when our music is too loud, those microphones can break.

"It comes down to how loud your things are and how loud you're listening to them," Dr. Vandermeer said.

Hearing loss among teens today is much higher than years before, experts say.

"Now everybody has MP3 players with their entire library of music and streaming music services plugged directly into their ears," Dr. Vandermeer said. "They are exposed to a lot more sound and options for loud music and loud noise sources than a lot of generations before this. There's some evidence that adolescents and kids who are listening to a lot of music are showing signs of hearing loss in high frequencies."

When listening to music, there are two things to keep in mind: the volume and the device you're using, because experts say earbuds have the potential to do more damage than traditional headphones that go over the entire ear.

"At 100 percent of the iPod volume, the earbuds might make 105 decibels or so, and the over-the-ear headphones might make 97 decibels," Dr. Vandermeer said, adding that you should keep the volume of your music no higher than 80 percent, or around 85 decibels. Listening to music above 85 decibels over eight hours will potentially cause hearing loss.

For reference, the sound of modern firearms registers at 140 decibels and a lawn mower generates about 110.

According to Dr. Vandermeer, hearing loss occurs when the tiny hair cells in our ears break. "When the loud sounds come in, these huge powerful [sound] waves come in and break those fine little hairs," he said.

Loud music is damaging the ears of a generation that grew up with noise, though millennials might not realize it just yet.

"Not one of those episodes is going to make them deaf; it’s the cumulative effect over the years they’re going to experience down the road," Dr. Vandermeer said.

Permanent damage to the ear can happen in minutes, and once the damage is done, it's done.

Dr. Vandermeer's advice is to keep the volume down, use earplugs at concerts and while mowing the lawn.

If you want to test your hearing, click here.


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