Chicago Tribune Seeks Medical Advice from Dr. Cherukuri

Chicago Tribune Online, Health and Lifestyle Section
Published October 26, 2015

Doctor Recommends 60/60 Rule for Music Listening to Prevent Hearing Loss

Now that the days of the Walkman — and its limited battery and volume — are behind us, a hearing-loss epidemic could be ahead.

Doctors who attend to ears, like Dr. Sreekant Cherukuri, an ear, nose and throat doctor in northwest Indiana, are encountering hearing problems earlier than ever.

In the past, music listening consisted of a “Walkman with a cassette player and over-the-ear headphones and two double-A batteries,” Cherukuri noted.

“Nowadays you’ve got a fully rechargeable, all-day battery, and in-the-ear-canal earbuds,” he said. “These new devices get much louder and can play for much longer.”

Paying attention to the volume and time you’re pumping music into your ears is more important than ever.

Cherukuri recommends the 60/60 rule. That is, listening at 60 percent volume for a maximum of 60 minutes.

In other words, monitor the volume bars on your device, and make sure they are never edging too far over the halfway mark. After that, take a breather.

“Ears that get a break from the loud, continuous noise or sound are less likely to suffer continuous damage,” Cherukuri said.

Cherukuri sees problems in an increasingly young demographic, he said. He fears an “epidemic” of hearing loss.”

“We’re seeing hearing loss in teens and 20-somethings that we wouldn’t see before until age 50,” he said.

Earbuds in particular can be problematic, he said, because the sound is placed so much closer to the eardrum.

“They can actually get to very damaging levels,” he said.

Ideally, the sound should be under 85 decibels, which he said is always safe — about the same volume as city traffic.

His company, MDHearingAid started selling more affordable hearing aids after he realized how expensive the devices were.

Cherukuri — a music lover and former DJ — uses over-the-ear, noise-canceling headphones.

These reduce ambient sound, which takes away the need to make the volume compete with the surroundings.

Also, he said, “the sound is so much better.”

Unlike other medical problems, Cherukuri warned, there is no fix for hearing loss. “Once there’s damage, it’s permanent,” he said.