Hearing Loss among Millennials & Gen Z

Hearing Loss among Millennials & Gen Z
Jeff Baller, Au.D., CCC-A

Imagine you are a young person today in the Millennial or Gen Z generation. The new possibilities for access to technology were unparalleled in prior eras of history. From the first moment you wake up, you might pop on some earbuds to watch a video sent to you by a friend during quiet hours. When you travel to work or school, you might spend the entire commute listening to music, podcasts, or an audiobook. During your working day, you might find yourself putting ambient music on in the background to help maintain focus. 

If you are in school, virtual learning might require you to wear headphones to take part in discussions. In the evenings, you might find yourself in a similar situation, watching television or movies with headphones in place. With this constant access to streaming media comes a constant inundation to sound, and headphones and earbuds provide very loud sound. Although young people enjoy this access to information and entertainment, it does come at a cost. Devices provide audio at a potential volume that is far louder than recommended by hearing health professionals, particularly when it is used for extended durations. Let’s take a look at the potential risks of extended use of headphones and earbuds, including the disproportionate effects that are seen in Millennial and Gen Z generations.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

When you think of noise-induced hearing loss, your mind might go immediately to people who work in very loud environments such as factories and industrial facilities. Indeed, these places can be a cause of noise-induced hearing loss, but they are not alone. Noise-induced hearing loss occurs for anyone who is exposed to loud sound for an extended duration of time. The louder the sound, the shorter amount of time is necessary to create hearing loss. Although some work sites emit a sound that can cause damage in a relatively short amount of time, worker protections are mandated to limit the amount of time of exposure and to require use of hearing protection in those locations. 

The latest devices emit maximum volumes that rival industrial work sites, yet there is no mandated protection for these recreational devices. Take, for instance, a smart phone. At the maximum volume, a person should not listen for more than a half hour at a time without the risk of hearing loss. However, some people, particularly younger generations of Millennials and Gen Z, are apt to using these devices at high volumes for extended periods of time. 

Headphone Risks

As we’ve seen, headphones and earbuds can pose a risk when they are used at high volumes for extended periods of time, such as the duration of a movie or even a television episode. One of the problems with headphones is when they are used with other background noise at the same time. Take, for instance, a commute on public transportation. When a person wears headphones or earbuds on a train or bus, the background sound can be quite loud. That sound is not completely eliminated by the use of headphones, and it can actually add volume to what is amplified by the device. 

Indeed, those who wear headphones on public transportation or in other loud environments can actually engage in a personal volume war between the background sound and the sound coming from their devices. With constant access to streaming media, music, and video, it is possible to use these devices throughout the day for long durations. Few young people think about the risks posed by loud volumes on their devices, and it is entirely possible to raise the level to match the background noise without thinking about the total volume amplified.

Addressing Hearing Loss

If you have a Millennial or Gen Z member of your family, you might want to open up a conversation about the use of technology, particularly recreational noise. Although the opportunity to use streaming media at any time of day feels like a good way to get new information and entertainment, that same opportunity is also a great risk when the sound is too loud for too long. Preventing noise-induced hearing loss is as straightforward as limiting the volume and duration of use, so don’t shy away from a conversation with the young people in your family. 

Hearing tests are available for people of all ages! If you are concerned about your hearing abilities, contact us today to schedule an appointment. 

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