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Sound Health is a recurring series that airs twice each month on WGLT's Sound Ideas program.Support for Sound Health comes from Carle Health, bringing care, coverage, support, healthcare research and education to central Illinois and beyond.

Sound Health: Wireless earbuds increase hearing loss among youth

wireless earbuds
Marcio Jose Sanchez
AP file
Apple AirPods are shown during an event in San Francisco.

According to a new study, more than 1 billion youth could suffer from permanent hearing loss due to unsafe listening practices.

Wireless headphones are more popular than ever due to their convenience and accessibility, according to Dr. Natalie McKee, the owner of Bloomington-Normal Audiology. McKee explains this convenience allows users to listen at high levels for hours at a time.

“The people that we’re seeing in their 60s and 70s all went to the concerts with the walls of speakers and are dealing with all of that, and now we’re seeing where everyone has their own personal concert with them all of the time,” McKee said.

While the use of wireless headphones increases, so does the number of people coming into McKee’s office.

Natalie McKee
Dr. Natalie McKee, owner of Bloomington-Normal Audiology, said the convenience and availability of earbuds are causing more hearing loss in young people.

“We’re starting to see where people are starting to come in, in their 30s and 40s, to get that baseline that they’re worried that they are doing things that are louder and they want to be preventative in nature and that is a really good thing to see,” McKee said.

When hearing loss becomes an issue, especially in children, McKee said it is important to identify it as quickly as possible to prevent it from affecting other things like speech and language development.

Children who struggle with hearing loss also my have difficulties at school, and struggle with feeling isolated or depressed, said McKee, adding all hearing damage is permanent, but there is beginning research on medications that may help reduce the risk of hearing loss.

“At this point in time, they are working on pills and things that you can ingest that would help put cellular protectants in place, but to go in and repair your hearing is not something that is easily attained at this point in time because of the way we are built structurally,” McKee said.

The key factors in safe listening are the amount of time spent listening and the volume level.

McKee advises headphone users follow the 60-60 rule by limiting their usage to no more than 60% of the volume for 60 minutes at a time.

McKee also recommends headphone users set volume limits on their devices to further prevent the possibility of hearing loss.

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Megan Spoerlein is a reporting intern at WGLT. She started in 2023. Megan is also studying journalism at Illinois State University.
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