Do MP3 Players Put Teens at Risk of Early Hearing Loss?
One-in-four teens is at risk of developing early hearing loss because of their misuse of iPods and other personal-listening devices, a new study suggests.
Teens today who are listening to their MP3 players at high volumes or for hours on end may find their hearing begin to deteriorate before reaching middle age, study researchers said. "In 10 or 20 years it will be too late to realize that an entire generation of young people is suffering from hearing problems much earlier than expected from natural aging," Chava Muchnik, a professor of communication disorders at Tel Aviv University in Israel, said in a statement.
For the study, Muchnik and her colleagues first gave 289 teenagers a questionnaire about their listening habits. Forty-one percent of the teens said they used their MP3 players daily, with 19 percent using them more than once a day. Forty percent of the teens admitted to listening to their music between 30 and 60 minutes a day and 21 percent said they listened between one and four hours a day.
A majority of the teens (39 percent) believed that they listened to their music at “moderate” levels.
In a room with moderate ambient noise, the researchers then had 74 teens listen to two popular Israeli songs with MP3 players and standard in-ear headsets. The teens were allowed to set the volume level of the MP3 players to their preferred setting, and the researchers measured the actual sound going into the teens’ ear canals using a tiny probe microphone. To avoid biases with the volume settings, the researchers gave the participants the questionnaire only after they completed the listening exercise.
Using the participants’ range of daily listening duration taken from the questionnaire, the researchers converted the measured sound level to 8-hour-equivalent levels, a noise-exposure standard where 85 decibels is considered hazardous to hearing. The researchers found that more than a quarter of the teen volunteers were at risk for hearing loss when listening to music for 30 minutes or longer.
Muchnik recommends that manufacturers adopt the European standards that limit the output of MP3 players to 100 decibels. And aside from just turning down the volume to spare their hearing, Muchnik said that teens could also choose over-the-ear headphones rather than the in-ear headsets that normally come with MP3 players such as the iPod.