Baby boomers are increasingly in need of hearing aids and their children and grandchildren may not be far behind, especially if they attend a lot of concerts, just as boomers did in their youth.
A study that tested teens' hearing before and after attending a rock concert found that 72 percent of them experienced some hearing loss.
The concert used for the test featured a popular female vocalist, not a heavy metal rock band normally associated with deafening decibels. The hearing loss was expected to be temporary but physicians such as Dr. M. Jennifer Derebery, lead author and a doctor at the House Clinic, are worried about the cumulative effect.
"Teenagers need to understand a single exposure to loud noise either from a concert or personal listening device can lead to hearing loss," she said. "With multiple exposures to noise over 85 decibels, the tiny hair cells may stop functioning and the hearing loss may be permanent."
Before the concerts the teenagers got a lecture on the importance of wearing ear protection but only three of the teens opted to use the offered ear plugs.
Three adult researchers sat with the teenagers. Using a calibrated sound pressure meter, 1,645 measurements of sound decibel (dBA) levels were recorded during the 26 songs played during the three hour concert. The sound levels ranged from 82-110 dBA, with an average of 98.5 dBA. The mean level was greater than 100 dBA for 10 of the 26 songs.
Violated OSHA standards
The decibel levels experienced at the concert exceeded what is allowable in the workplace, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA safe listening guidelines set time limits for exposures to sound levels of 85 dB and greater in the workplace.
The volumes recorded during the concert would have violated OSHA standards in less than 30 minutes. In fact, one third of the teen listeners showed a temporary threshold shift that would not be acceptable in adult workplace environments, Derebery said.
Following the concert, 53.6 percent of the teens said they did not think they were hearing as well after the concert. Twenty-five percent reported they were experiencing tinnitus or ringing in their ears, which they did not have before the concert.
More teens with hearing loss
Derebery and other researchers are especially concerned because in the most recent government survey on health in the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2005-2006, 20 percent of adolescents were found to have at least slight hearing loss, a 31 percent increase from a similar survey done from 1988-1994.
Other research has raised concerns about personal music players with earbud speakers, which are often used by very young children.
To Derebery, the findings serve as a wake-up call and should lead to more research.
Â "It also means we definitely need to be doing more to ensure the sound levels at concerts are not so loud as to cause hearing loss and neurological damage in teenagers, as well as adults," said Derebery. "Only three of our 29 teens chose to use ear protection, even when it was given to them and they were encouraged to do so. We have to assume this is typical behavior for most teen listeners, so we have the responsibility to get the sound levels down to safer levels."