iPods and Other MP3s Threaten Hearing Loss

Loud music, portable CD players, and Walkmans have been contributing to hearing loss for generations. Now, MP3 players such as the iPod pose additional dangers. These players typically deliver music directly into the ear canal via “earbuds”, which can boost sound levels by six to nine decibels.

The players feature disk space for thousands of songs and can be played for hours at a time, so their users don’t even have to stop to change a tape or CD. Damage to sensitive auditory hair cells is inflicted in proportion to its duration, so continuous listening, even at a seemingly reasonable level, can cause significant damage. Millions play their MP3s for several hours a day, placing a large noise burden on their hearing.

France and other European countries have enacted laws that limit the volume of iPods and other devices to 100 decibels. But as soon as those laws were enacted, Web sites started providing detailed instructions on how to override the limits. Apple and other manufacturers face lawsuits in the United States from individuals seeking to recover damages for hearing loss.

Young people are not aware of the problem and tend to believe their good hearing will last forever. The article reports that a recent study in Pediatrics reported that of the nearly 10,000 people who responded to a survey posted on the MTV web site, only 8 percent considered hearing loss "a very big problem." Hearing loss ranked well behind sexually transmitted diseases (50 percent), alcohol and drug use (47 percent) and acne (18 percent). The article reports, “While 61 percent said they had experienced ringing in their ears or other hearing problems after attending rock concerts, only 14 percent said they had used ear protection.” Of those who believe hearing loss may be a danger, many believe medical technology will find a way to restore their hearing.

Hearing loss may progress unnoticed since the early symptoms tend to come on gradually. Early signs include muffled voices and reduced ability to follow a conversation in a noisy environment such as a restaurant or a party. Ringing in the ears can increase to get so loud that that it interferes with sleep. Hearing loss is occurring in increasingly younger teens and children. The journal Pediatrics estimates that 12.5 percent of children aged 6 to 19 (some 5.2 million kids) already have noise-induced hearing loss. Education can increase awareness of the problem, but real change will only occur “when young people themselves recognize the dangers and change their behavior.”

Teachers may need to increase their vigilance in detecting children with hearing impairments, and they may want to take extra steps that generally help all learners, including those who are hard of hearing. For example, they might distribute handouts that reinforce lecture notes or use close captioning in video presentations.

Tom Valeo, T.and Smith, Michael W., MD. MP3s May Threaten Hearing Loss. CBS News Online, August 25, 2005.

See http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/08/25/health/webmd/main796088.shtml.

Added by Bob Jarvis.