Earbuds and Hearing Loss
iPods and Other MP3 Players Pose Hearing Hazard
by Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH
Want to help your kids keep their hearing intact? Try talking them into turning down the volume on their iPods and other MP3 players. The results of a recent study* conducted at Tel Aviv University suggest that one in four teens is in danger of experiencing serious hearing loss at a relatively young age as a direct result of listening to high-volume music from these devices.
The findings of the study, published in the International Journal of Audiology, leave little doubt that a significant percentage of teens have harmful habits when it comes to listening to music on iPods and other MP3 players. The researchers suspect that in a decade or two, an entire generation of young adults will be affected by hearing problems.
Hearing loss caused by regular exposure to loud music occurs slowly and gradually, and usually isn’t noticed until years later. Today’s teens might not realize that their hearing has been affected until they’re in their 30s and 40s—much younger than hearing problems typically arise in their parents’ generation.
Noise is measured in units called decibels, on a scale from zero to 140. The higher the number in decibels, the louder the noise, and the louder the noise, the greater the risk of hearing loss. Hearing loss can begin with regular exposure to noise levels of 110 decibels or more for periods longer than one minute. Many experts recommend a maximum of 15 minutes of unprotected exposure to noises of 100 decibels or more. Long-term exposure to noises of 80 to 85 decibels or greater can cause permanent hearing loss.
Currently, the maximum decibel levels delivered by MP3 devices differ from model to model, but some can sound off at up to 129 decibels. That’s louder than a lawnmower (90 decibels) and a chainsaw (110 decibels) but still quieter than fireworks (140 decibels).
What can you do to help protect and preserve your children’s hearing? Start by encouraging them to turn the volume down on their MP3 to about 60 percent of the maximum. Make sure they understand the hazards of listening to extra-loud music, and ask them to use headphones rather than earbuds when they’re listening to their MP3 players, because earbuds deliver louder sounds deeper in the ear canal, which can be more damaging. If you’re insistent, maybe they’ll actually hear you, while they still can.
*Chava Muchnik, Noam Amir, Ester Shabtai, Ricky Kaplan-Neeman. Preferred listening levels of personal listening devices in young teenagers: Self reports and physical measurements. International Journal of Audiology, 2011; 1 DOI: 10.3109/14992027.2011.631590