MP3s and Hearing Loss

  • 16-year-old Hayden likes to pump up the volume on his iPod.

    “I listen to it as loud as I can,” says Hayden, “to drown out my surroundings, pretty much.”

    But afterwards, he says, it’s hard to hear.

    “It’s kind of like, something’s in there almost,” explains Hayden as he puts a finger to his ear.

    Other kids notice the same thing.

    “Sometimes my ears ring,” says 14-year-old Wesley. “They feel like they itch a little bit.”

    According to research from the European Union, 10 percent of people who listen to MP3 players are at risk of going deaf after five years, even if they only listen one hour per day.

    One big risk, experts say, is turning up the volume too high.

    “It’s very bad to keep the MP3 player at high blast because you really can be damaging your hearing,” says Dr. Julie Zweig, an ear, nose and throat specialist. “A good rule of thumb is if you can’t hear people talking to you while you are wearing your ear buds, or if people can hear your music while you are wearing your ear buds, then it is definitely too loud.”’

    Another problem, she says, is duration. “You have to remember that damage to the hearing occurs not just from listening to the MP3 players at high volumes,” says Dr. Zweig, “but [from] how long you listen to them; the duration of use.”

    She says once a teen has ringing in the ears or muffled hearing, it’s possible that damage has already occurred. “Hearing loss is a big deal because you can never get your hearing back,” says Dr. Zweig, “You can wear devices that help your hearing, such as hearing aids, but once you lose your hearing, it’s gone.”

    She says parents should be aware there is a maximum volume lock on their child’s iPod. It’s a safeguard for teens that won’t turn down the volume on their own.

    “I figure, you know what?” asks 17-year-old Halle Robison. “If I do end up deaf, at least I listened to some good music on the way there.”

    What We Need to Know

    Researchers have found that exposure to loud sounds can lead to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Researchers tested the hearing of over 5,000 children ages 6 to 19 years and found that 12.5 percent of the children had evidence of a NIHL. Using their data, the researchers estimated that approximately 5.2 million children in the United States have a NIHL in one or both ears, and boys appear to be affected more often than girls.
    NIHL occurs when the ears’ sensory cells and nerve fibers are damaged by exposure to loud sounds. If these cells and fibers are destroyed, hearing loss is permanent. According to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), NIHL can be caused by a one-time exposure to a loud sound as well as by repeated exposure to sounds at various loudness levels over an extended period of time.
    So why does this matter? Along with many other things, music proves to be an essential in the typical teenager’s life. Yes, it is enjoyable but listening to music at extreme volumes could potentially damage hearing in the near future.
    NIHL can be prevented. The NIDCD urges all individuals to understand the hazards of noise and how to practice good health in everyday life. Consider the following:

    • Know which noises can cause damage (those above 75 decibels)
    • Wear earplugs or other hearing protective devices when involved in a loud activity

    What Do You Think

    1. Do you think hearing loss is a prevalent issue in teen life today? Why? Why not?
    2. With the information you’ve just read, will you consider altering your music listening habits? Why? Why not?


  • Video Overview

    iPods and other digital music players have skyrocketed in popularity and sales, especially during the holidays. But once again, new research is warning that listening to music through earbuds or headphones can lead to hearing loss.

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