Millennials, the Deaf Generation?

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Girl enjoying headphones / Shutterstock  Image: Shutterstock

AC/DC rocked the rock 'n 'roll world when they postponed further tour dates due to concern for lead singer Brian Johnson's hearing. As it turns out, the hearing problems facing Johnson - the 68-year-old front man for the famously loud rock legends - may also face millions of millennials throughout the world in the near and distant future.

For Baby Boomers, you had to attend a Who concert to get damaged hearing. For Generation X, it was AC/DC, but now ear-shattering decibels are available with ear buds.

Johnson's ears are a miracle in having lasted this long, they have been through noises ranging from race cars to concerts for decades. Yet last year a different WHO, the World Health Organization rather than the band, claimed that about 1.1 billion young people worldwide face the risk of hearing loss. The culprits are no longer just noisy venues, but also music players.

In their analysis, the WHO found that almost half of those ages 12 to 35  listen to their music players at unsafe volumes, while around 40 percent expose themselves to very loud events such as concerts.

"As they go about their daily lives doing what they enjoy, more and more young people are placing themselves at risk of hearing loss," notes WHO's Dr. Etienne Krug.

Noise is measured in units called decibels (dB), and hearing loss occurs when people's ears are exposed to loud noises for long periods of time.The WHO states that anything above 85 dB carries the risk of hearing loss. Speaking with the Chicago Tribune, hearing expert James Foy stated that the headphones worn by at-risk youth can produce sounds ranging from 85 to 110 dB. That's approaching standing next to a 747 jet engine.

Sometimes hearing loss is only fleeting, but many times it's permanent. Says Krug, "once you lose your hearing, it won't come back."

Even mild loss of hearing in young people can prevent speech and language learning, which could lead in the end to less progress in school and stunted social skills. A 2010 Journal of the American Medical Association study found that hearing loss affects tens of millions in the U.S. alone. The study saw an obvious increase in youth hearing loss between 1988 and 2006. And according to the WHO, half of these people could have avoided their ear damage.

"Taking simple preventative actions will allow people to continue to enjoy themselves without putting their hearing at risk," says Dr. Krug.

Linked to growing pedestrian deaths, headphones may also be the number one hearing loss culprit in young people. Teens and young adults may best avoid ear damage through headphone changes.

Instead of giving up headphone-music, Foy suggests choosing looser, over-the-ear headphones rather than in-ear headphones. Compared to in-ear headphones whose earbuds sit just half an inch from the eardrum, Foy argues that over-the-ears' padded cups keep the music much farther away from the eardrum and recommends a "60/60 rule". First, keep the music player's volume at no more than 60 percent of its range. So, for a device whose volume ranges from 1 to 10, go no farther than 6. Also, keep music sessions no longer than 60 minutes.

Hearing such advice may be tough for music lovers, but at least they'll be able to hear it.