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MP3 Players and Hearing

There are millions of Americans, both young and old, that listen to their iPod or other MP3 players for hours each day. Lately, there has been much media exposure brewing against MP3 players with claims that these devices, using small disc-shaped earphones called earbuds, can cause hearing loss.

The problem has been associated more with the younger set. That is, research has shown that about 16 percent of children between 6-19 years of age are showing early signs of hearing loss in the range most readily damaged by loud sounds. Unfortunately, adolescents are resistant to warnings about loud music.

The problem with noise-induced hearing loss from music, however, can affect any individual of any age. Some personal music players have an output around 110 decibels (dB) which is somewhere between a pneumatic drill and an aircraft taking off. Not only do these devices produce loud music, there can be played for hours without any interruption. Therefore, it is the combination of the loud music and the length of listening time that is dangerous to the ear.

In fact, listening to loud music with any personal stereo system for a long period of time can rapidly accelerate the aging of the ear by causing damage to the hair cells located in the inner ear. Many older adults experience hearing loss as a part of the normal aging process- don't compound the problem by overexposing your ears to loud sounds.

Excessive exposure to loud sound, whether it is from music, the lawnmower, or working with power tools should be avoided. As far as the MP3 players or other portable stereos, limit use to one hour or less per day at levels about 60 percent of the maximum volume levels of the player. This is known as the "60 minute/60 percent" rule.

When exposed to other loud sounds you should wear some type of ear protection. For example, you can have customized hearing protectors made that are comfortable and effective in reducing the amount of damaging noise reaching your ears.

Several different auditory problems may occur if you don't protect your hearing. This includes decreased hearing for the high-pitched sounds, causing a reduction in the ability to understand conversations.

In addition to hearing loss, exposure to loud sounds can cause the annoying symptom of tinnitus (ringing, or other noises in the ear/s or head).

by Craig W. Newman, PhD.

Dr Newman is currently Section Head of Audiology and Co-Director of the Audiology Research Laboratory at The Cleveland Clinic Foundation.




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