'Generation Deaf': How New Zealand's 'alarming' headphone habits are ruining our hearing

There are concerns that the way we listen to music will damage the hearing of an entire generation, it's being labelled Generation Deaf.

A pilot programme has just been launched by the National Foundation for the Deaf (NFD) to understand the growing increase in hearing loss in children in New Zealand.

"At the moment, we're seeing one out of five teenagers globally have been diagnosed with a hearing loss - and that's a 30 percent increase since the late 1990s," says NFD chief executive Natasha Gallardo.

NFD wants to improve Kiwi data by developing a five-year research project to map the hearing loss in children between years 9 and 13.

Year 9 students at Rutherford College in Te Atatu Pensula, Auckland, are getting the project started. A large proportion said they listened to very loud music, mainly in headphones, which sometimes hurt their ears.

Early results are concerning: 15 percent of the children tested so far have been referred for further assessment, double what they expected.

"We probably felt that it would be more around the 5 to 8 percent mark, which is where the statistics are at the moment," says Ms Gallardo.

"We were certainly alarmed when we looked at the results that we got and they all talked about the buzzing and the ringing in the ears," says Fit For Work occupational health nurse, Judy Walker.

"We associate tinnitus, which is ringing in the ears, with some sort of hearing damage that may be happening."

There are concerns that this will be Generation Deaf.

The World Health Organisation says 1.1 billion young people aged 12 to 35 are at risk of hearing loss, and 60 percent of childhood hearing loss is due to preventable causes.

"This hearing loss can be attributed to wearing earphones, earbuds, headphones - and whilst it is around how loud you listen to your music, it's also about prolonged use," says Ms Gallardo.

Key messages for children and parents are:

- Ensure safe sound levels, if anyone else can hear the music in your headphones it's too loud. 

- Don't use headphones for more than 90 minutes per day.

The warning is, once your hearing is gone, you can't get it back, so keep the volume low and have regular breaks.