By Michael P.
Bang! Crash! Clap! Wub! All of these sounds, however grossly oversimplified, are the sounds of music. All of us have heard it, experienced it, and jammed out to one of these artistic creations. Music, however, has vastly changed over the past several decades. Its production and distribution has been revolutionized by the computer era of the twenty first century. Streaming services such as Spotify and Soundcloud allow for lesser known artists to easily and effectively distribute their work to a larger audience. Computer software such as Ableton and Fruity Loops Studio has allowed experimental musicians to create new and neo-modern auditory works of art that manipulate and alter sound waves to their absolute maximum. Generally, the music industry, and its accessibility has seen a spike relative to our increased social connectivity. Combined with smartphones, music becomes available to virtually anyone, anywhere. A simple train ride home or a walk in the park can become a tune filled adventure. However, the widespread availability of music has also provided listeners with another customizable feature and ability: the volume.
Unlike thirty or forty years ago, it is quite common to hear someone else’s music leaking through their earphones, indicating a tremendous volume. Volume generally brings emotion to songs that would seem lifeless, and draws out the lower tones in the background. Some teenagers even enjoy the “rush” that deafening beats bring them. There, however, is quite a significant downside to this: hearing loss. Scientific studies conducted by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Diseases points out, with remarkable clarity, that a large number of teens are currently either affected by partial deafness, or are potentially exposed to its effects. In 2010, a CDC study calculated that approximately 16 percent of all American teens suffered from some form of hearing loss, caused largely by loud noises and sounds.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is a phenomenon caused, as is sufficiently explained by the name, by loud noises or sounds. Within the ear channel, there exist hair cells, to which miniscule stereocilia are attached. These stereocilia respond to movement of the hair cells and bend, opening small channels through which chemicals can be exchanged, creating an electrical signal. This signal, in turn, is then transferred by the auditory nerve and converted in the brain to sounds we can interpret and comprehend. Loud noise can damage these hair cells, eventually killing them, consequently causing less impulses to reach the brain. As well as this, a protective layer on the nerve called myelin can be damaged, lowering sensitivity of the nerve itself.
It might seem terrifying, and thoughts of dropping music altogether might rapidly be racing across your mind (a bit of an exaggeration), but noise-induced hearing loss can only occur, as mentioned above, at loud volumes. In general, scientists agree that prolonged exposure to a sound of louder than 85 decibels may cause mild hearing loss, with the severity scaling in tangent with strength of the sound. As a frame of reference, a normal conversation ranges around 65 decibels, a motorcycle clocks at about 95, and a police siren registers at approximately 120 decibels. Tying into music, an mp3 player is capable of producing a maximum of about 105 decibels. Extended time spent listening to this creates a high risk of NIHL, but can easily be countered by simply pressing one or two buttons. Each level of volume you go down drastically reduces the probability of hearing loss! If absolutely necessary however, it is better to use over-the-ear headphones, as they produce a significantly less intense sound on the ear than other varieties of earphones.
Turning down your music is not the only thing that can help counteract/prevent NIHL. If you notice that your hearing becomes strange and unnatural, or you perceive a constant ringing in your ears, take a break. Chances are, this ringing will go away, and the tinnitus (ringing) is an isolated incident. Recommended by audiological scientists, the 60/60 rule can also be used, which simply states that the threshold for volume of music should be 60%, and the maximum time spent listening should be 60 minutes. However, if this doesn’t work, and symptoms occurs often , or persist over a long period of time, it is wise to contact a doctor or another medical professional to conduct a hearing test, on the result of which action can be taken.
NIHL is a serious affliction that should not be taken lightly. In today’s modern society, music is everywhere. It connects us, defines us and allows us to express ourselves to the outside world. Its increased availability and accessibility is a godsend, but we have to ensure that its enjoyment is governed and controlled. Far too little people know about this and continue to damage their hearing on a daily basis. Groups such as “It’s a Noisy Planet. Protect Their Hearing” are trying to create educational programs and campaigns in schools that will educate teachers, students and parents alike on the dangers of NIHL. The American Hearing Research Foundation is also conducting research on the numerous causes of this ailment, and the exact role of hair cells in the hearing system, to try and create methods that are more widespread and effective. In the meantime, however, we need to take this responsibility onto ourselves. Take a little bit of time to think. Turn it down!