Headphones and iPods are everywhere on college campuses, but many students may be unaware of the threat of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), the damage to a person’s hearing from repeated exposure to loud sounds over time.
“Everyone has tiny hairs in their ears that are vital sensory cells, which translate the vibrations of all sounds into signals which the brain processes as a particular pitch,” said junior Vanity Sotelo, a 21-year-old biology major. “As we get older, these cells naturally die. Any sort of very loud noise, not just music, can cause damage to these hair cells — irreversible damage.”
Hearing can be damaged by continuous exposure to noises over 85 decibels (dB), about the sound level of a large truck, meaning that the nerves in the ears can no longer effectively transmit information to the brain. Once damaged, hair cells cannot grow back, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
“Acoustic trauma caused by stimuli louder than 100 dB is generally not reversible. Hearing aids can be used to functionally minimize the damage. If damage occurs when young, effects might not show up until accelerated hearing loss when older,” Erin Hayes, a professor in the Department of Biology, wrote in an email statement to the Phoenix.
According to a study done by researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel, one in four teenagers is at risk of developing NIHL as early as their 30s or 40s, because of the use of portable music players.
“While having portable music is great, it should be taken seriously, and can have very adverse effects if not [taken seriously],” said Gilbert Botham, a 19-year-old sophomore political science and criminal justice major, also known as DJ Gotham on Loyola’s student radio station WLUW.
Symptoms of NIHL do not appear suddenly but increase gradually. Over time, a person’s hearing may become distorted or muffled and it may be difficult for the person to understand speech, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders’ website.
“Hearing loss caused by noise can only be prevented by eliminating or lowering noise exposure levels,” Hayes said. “Ways of doing this are taking breaks when hearing loud noise, standing more distant from the source of the noise or using hearing protection such as earplugs and headphones.”
“As a musician, I am very conscious of my hearing,” said 18-year-old freshman Maura Rocks, who plays in the LUC Wind Ensemble. “I know a lot of musicians, specifically percussionists, who have lost a lot of their hearing because they never thought to protect their ears when performing or practicing. The same goes with headphones.”
Rocks is now more vigilant in protecting her hearing.
“When I was younger, I never really saw the connection between the music volume of my headphones and hearing loss,” Rocks said. “But today I am so aware of protecting my hearing no matter what I’m doing: when I perform, when I practice, when I go to concerts and especially when I’m listening to my own headphones. My hearing is especially important to me because I’m a musician, but it should really be important to everyone.”