Listen up: MP3 players may be harmful to your hearing

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Today’s relatively inexpensive and convenient MP3 players allow users to listen to music virtually around the clock.  People, of course, have been listening to music players of various types for decades. One key difference is that today’s players work for longer periods than those in the past, when batteries would run out after a short time.

A recent study of teen use of MP3 players found that eighty percent of teens use their MP3 players regularly, with 21 percent listening from one to four hours daily, and eight percent listening more than four hours consecutively.  Regularly listening to personal music players at high-volume settings when young often has no immediate effect on hearing but is likely to result in hearing loss later in life.  An article in the journal Pediatrics estimated that 12.5% of children aged 6 to 19 — about 5.2 million – already have noise-induced hearing loss.

Currently, maximum decibel levels on MP3 players can differ from model to model, but some can go up to 129 decibels, as much noise as an airplane taking off nearby.  Long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. The louder the sound, the shorter the time period before hearing loss can occur.  Hearing loss caused by continuous exposure to loud noise is a slow and progressive process. People may not notice the harm they are causing until years of accumulated damage begin to take hold.

The University of Michigan Risk Science Center created a survey that they gave to more than 4,500New York City residents.  Researchers then estimated how much noise the subjects were exposed to based on previous research into how much sound is produced by transit, music players and other sources.  The researchers found that almost two-thirds of the subjects mainly risked being exposed to noise through listening to music.

Ten percent of those who used transit were at risk of hearing loss from transit alone. Also, nine out of 10 of New Yorkers are at risk of hearing loss when you look at their total noise exposure: MP3 players plus work plus riding transit.

Researcher Richard Nietzel said “I do think it’s a serious problem, there aren’t really any other experiences where we would tolerate having nine out of 10 people exposed at a level we know is hazardous. We certainly wouldn’t tolerate this with another agent, such as something that caused cancer or chronic disease. Yet for some reason we do for noise.”

The take-home message is to enjoy your music but try to limit your exposure by reducing the volume and/or limiting the time. Custom or noise-cancelling earphones may help to reduce background sounds so that you won’t need to turn up the volume as high.  Be aware of your hearing health and just remember that if you lose it, it won’t come back.

by Carol Hawkins