hearing device in ear 311.
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
MP3 players and other electronic devices that funnel noise directly into the
ears are a serious health hazard – especially to teenagers, according to a new
study at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Medical Faculty.
Users listen to
crystal-clear tunes at high volume for hours at a time, a significant rise in
sound quality compared to the days of the Walkman. But, says Prof. Chava Muchnik
of TAU’s department of communication disorders and colleagues, these advances
have also resulted in personal listening devices causing harm to hearing, just
as former US president Bill Clinton lost some of his hearing in middle age by
playing a saxophone as a young man.
But today’s exposure is almost
One in four teens is in danger of early hearing loss as a
direct result of these listening habits, says Muchnik and her team, who studied
teens and music listening habits, and took acoustic measurements of their
preferred listening levels.
The results, recently published in the
International Journal of Audiology, demonstrate clearly that teens have harmful
“In 10 or 20 years, it will be too late for a
generation of young people suffering from hearing problems much earlier than
expected from natural aging,” says Muchnik.
Noise causes damage to the
tiny hairs in the inner ear that enables it to hear, and continuous exposure to
loud noise is a slow and progressive process that many people don’t notice,
Muchnik says. Young people’s hearing can thus deteriorate as early as their 30s
– much earlier than past generations.
The first stage of the study
included 289 participants aged 13 to 17, who were asked questions about their
habits on personal listening devices (PLDs) – specifically, their preferred
listening levels and the duration of their listening. In the second stage,
measurements of these listening levels were performed on 74 teens in both quiet
and noisy environments.
The measured volume levels were used to calculate
the potential risk to hearing according to damage risk criteria laid out by
industrial health and safety regulations.
The study’s findings are
worrisome, says Muchnik.
Eighty percent of teens use their PLDs
regularly, with 21% listening from one to four hours daily and 8% listening more
than four hours consecutively.
Taken together with the acoustic
measurement results, the data indicate that a quarter of the participants are at
severe risk for hearing loss.
Industry-related health and safety
regulations are the only benchmark for measuring the harm caused by continuous
exposure to high volume noise. Yet there is a real need for additional
music-risk criteria to prevent music-induced hearing loss, Muchnik says. In the
meantime, she recommends that manufacturers adopt the European standards that
limit the output of PLDs to 100 decibels. Currently, maximum decibel levels can
differ from model to model, but some can go up to 129 decibels.
also be taken by schools and parents, she says. Some school boards are
developing programs to increase awareness of hearing health, such as the
“Dangerous Decibels” program in Oregon schools, which provides early education
on the subject. Teens could also choose over-the-ear headphones instead of the
ear buds that commonly come with an iPod.
The researchers will soon focus
on the music listening habits of younger children, including preteens, and the
development of advanced technological solutions to enable the safe use of PLDs.