Does my teen have noise-induced hearing loss?

Q: Our teenager listens to music with over-ear headphones and she CRANKS them so loud! What is her risk of noise-induced hearing loss?

A: If you’ve ever been to a music concert and left experiencing ringing in your ears and difficulty hearing, you know firsthand that loud sounds can cause hearing damage. 

Most of the time, attending a concert isn’t quite loud enough or prolonged enough to cause permanent loss. 

But listening to loud music is a real concern, so real, in fact, that the World Health Organization has estimated that 1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk for hearing loss. 

Excessively loud sounds (more than 140 decibels, comparable to a jet engine at 100 feet) or prolonged exposure to loud music can be detrimental to hearing and cause permanent hearing loss. 

Prolonged exposure, 8 hours at 85 decibels (comparable to the intensity of sound of garbage disposal or blender) or 15 min at 100 decibels (comparable to the sound of a motorcycle or snowmobile), can occur while kids are listening to music.

Generally, earbuds put kids at greater risk for hearing loss than over-the-ear headphones, but hearing loss due to the intensity of the sound and the length of exposure could occur with either. 

Teens should generally not listen to music via ear buds or headphones at greater than 50 percent volume, and they should take regular breaks from listening to music. (Editor’s note: Etymotic sells $39 kids’ earbuds engineered for supposedly safer sound output.) 

At annual well-child visits, audiometry will be performed to test your teen’s hearing.

But if you have concerns about hearing loss, don’t wait until the next well-child visit. This should prompt a visit to your pediatrician for testing as soon as possible. 

Dr. Gigi Chawla is a board-certified pediatrician and the senior medical director of primary care at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. Send your questions to