"Junior! Turn the music down!"

Ever since the first electric guitar hit the stage, parents have been warning kids that listening to loud music could damage their hearing.

But back then, music at ear-splitting volumes was usually just a once-in-a-while thing. After a night out dancing or a weekend rock concert, adults and teens alike might have felt a ringing in their ears that told them the decibels were taking their toll.

Now, technology is allowing us to listen to music anywhere. A multitude of portable music players with ear buds makes it easy to pipe loud music straight to the brain.

As a result, we're becoming a world of constant listeners. Many office workers spend their daily 8-hour shifts with ear buds in place, drowning out distractions with loud music. At 5 o'clock, they jump on the freeway, where more loud tunes take the edge off the traffic jam. Then it's on to the gym, where they're hooked up to music while they run on the treadmill or work out on the elliptical trainer.

And yes, the downside of all this music listening is beginning to show. A hearing study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that partial and mild hearing loss among teens has been on the increase during the past 15 years. The article also cites an Australian study that connected personal stereos to a 70% increase in the risk of hearing loss among adolescents.

Partial or mild hearing loss is often characterized by:

  • Inability to hear high-frequency sounds
  • Trouble hearing soft sounds such as whispers or a dripping faucet
  • Single-sided deafness with hearing impairment in one ear

Many specialists believe this increase in hearing loss among young people is the result of having mp3 players turned up too loud for too long. They also are concerned that it will lead to rising numbers of people with more serious hearing impairment as the current generation of teens gets older.

Just as technology is increasing our risk of hearing loss, it's also creating new ways to correct the problem. People who suffer from hearing impairment have more choices for possible solutions these days – everything from tiny digital hearing aids to conductive devices that are surgically implanted.

Recent technological advancements have led to hearing devices that do not require a surgical implant. The SoundBite Hearing System is a bone-conduction prosthetic device that uses a nearly invisible microphone worn behind the ear. A digital processor sends the sound to a wireless chip, which transmits the signals to a tiny device inside the mouth that attaches to the back teeth. This device changes the sound signals into vibrations that travel through the teeth and bone to the brain.

Technological advances like these are helping people troubled by single-sided deafness or conductive hearing loss to regain their ability to hear the voices around them and once again be fully involved in the conversation. No word yet on if these advances in hearing technology have any effect on getting your kids to turn down the volume of mp3 players.

Charlie Haycock is a writer and online marketing specialist for SoundBite, a bone conduction prosthetic device that does not require a surgical implant.