The American Osteopathic Association reports that one in five teens will experience some hearing loss, and links this 30% increase over 20 years ago to more frequent headphone use. For kids and young adults, this can lead to developmental delays in both speech and language. But youths aren’t the only demographic affected; according to the National Institute of Health, nearly one in four U.S. adults aged 20-69 show signs of noise-induced hearing loss.

Basically, the sound waves generated by headphones make the eardrum vibrate. The vibration spreads to other parts of the ear, including the cochlea and its hair cells. The hair cells initiate a chain reaction that sends an electronic signal to the brain, which registers them as sound. However, according to Dr. Santosh S, long-term exposure at high volumes makes the hair cells lose their sensitivity to vibration and may bend or fold them, which can lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss.

Studies, such as one from Swedish researchers published in the Noise Health journal in 2017, indicate that “longer lifetime exposure in years and increased listening frequency were associated with poorer hearing thresholds and more self-reported hearing problems.” It also found that teenagers who listened for more than three hours at a time suffered from tinnitus.

The World Health Organization has weighed in on the risks, too, saying that people should limit their use of “personal audio devices” to less than one hour per day.

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