Listen Up! 8 Ways to Lose Your Hearing

While it's generally regarded as good parenting to monitor the kind of music your child is listening to, knowing the song that's blasting in your child's headphones just by standing next to him or her is probably not the best way to find out.

But beyond tuning out the world and turning up the jams, there are a several ways people may prematurely damage or lose part or all of their hearing before age or genetics do it.

The following is a list of ways hearing can be damaged and lost.

Ear Buds

"Our ears really weren't meant to listen to music at the level we're listening to it for hours and hours," said Dr. Geroge Alexiades, an otologist and neuro-otologist at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary.

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But Alexiades pointed out that the problem is not necessarily having music playing so close to the ear but when that music is played loudly to drown out other sounds using ear buds that were not made to plug the ear canal.

"With ear buds that don't block background sound, people crank up their music louder," Alexiades said. "The intensity of sound we can listen to depends on how long we can listen to it."

Using ear buds can also show how hearing can change after long exposure to certain noise levels. Eventually, our ears undergo a temporary threshold shift, when our perception of normal volume changes and it is difficult to hear softer noises -- after a rock concert, for example.

The effect, however, is usually temporary and hearing will return to normal within several hours if no lasting damage was done.

While ear buds plug the ear canal and block ambient noise so that music may be played at a lower level, doctors caution that this can be dangerous in situations where noise cues are important for safety -- while driving or walking on a street, for example.


According to an October 2009 study, the noise associated with driving a convertible can damage hearing over time.

"The more you [drive], the more chance you have of developing permanent problems," said Dr. Philip Michael, an ear, nose and throat surgeon at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Birmingham, England, who presented his findings at the October meeting of the American Academy of Otolaryngology. "It's a cumulative risk."

"There's a humanitarian reason for [this research] but also another reason, which is that I like cars," said Michael, who drives an Audi convertible.

But Michael's findings revealed more than personal taste. Measuring the sound a driver will hear in several types of convertibles, including a Toyota MR2, an Aston Martin V-8 Vantage, and a Porsche 997 Carrera, at speeds between 50-70 miles per hour, Michael found that drivers are exposed to noise levels of 88-90 Decibels (Db).

The average conversation is held at about 50 Db, street traffic is about 70 Db, and an operating lawnmower is about 90 Db. Repeated exposure to over 85 Db is known to cause permanent hearing loss.

Greg Fletcher, 49, of Orange County, California, has owned a vintage Jensen Healey convertible since 1985, and said he is all too aware that convertibles are not the peaceful joy ride of people's fantasies.

"A convertible is something pleasant to drive on country roads at 40 mph," Fletcher said. "But [in my car] there's not much insulation, the engine is noisy, it vibrates a lot... Even with the top up I can't talk on the phone."

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