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What is the connection between iPods and hearing loss?

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Updated April 24, 2011

Question: What is the connection between iPods and hearing loss?
Answer: Several studies have shown a possible connection between hearing loss and exposure to loudly played personal listening devices like iPods and MP3 players. They can cause you to lose hearing if you play the devices at too loud a level for too long. Products are available for reducing the risk of hearing loss from this loud noise exposure, because even if a personal listening device has volume controls, kids and teenagers can not always be relied upon to use them responsibly.

iPods and Hearing Loss: Increased Hearing Loss in Teenagers

Authors of an article in The Journal of the American Medical Association analyzed two earlier health studies to see if there was any change in the prevalence of hearing loss in 12 to 19 year-olds. The authors did not declare a direct link between loud music exposure and hearing loss, but did cite it as a risk factor. The two studies that they analyzed were:

  • A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey done from 1988 to 1994, known as the NHANES III. Data from this study indicated that 14.9% of the 12 to 19 year-olds had some hearing loss of any type or level.

  • A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey done from 2005 to 2006. Data from this study showed that 19.5% of the 12 to 19 year-olds had at least some hearing loss.

This represented a 31% jump in percentages from the first study to the second, more recent study. Another way to put it, as widely reported in the media, was that this meant that one in five adolescents had hearing loss. Although most of the hearing losses reported were minor, high-frequency unilateral losses, the data demonstrated that one in 20 had hearing loss levels of 25 decibels or more.

iPods and Hearing Loss: Common Sense and Product Solutions

So what can parents do to protect their teenagers' hearing from iPods and other personal listening devices? For starters, they can teach their children not to listen to music at too loud a level or for too long. Volume levels on personal listening devices should be set at safer levels. Parents can also encourage the taking of listening breaks to give the ears a chance to rest.

In addition, more companies are coming out with products designed to limit the hearing damage from extended exposure to loud music. One product is from dbLogic, which sells earphones that they say will limit the sound pressure level to 85 decibels. (Eighty-five decibels is what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) considers to be the "danger level" that people should not have extended exposure to.) Another product is the noise-suppressing earbuds from iHearSafe, which claims its earbuds keep the volume below 85 decibels.

Sources:

Change in Prevalence of Hearing Loss in US Adolescents. Josef Shargorodsky; Sharon G. Curhan; Gary C. Curhan; Roland Eavey. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2010;304(7):772-778.

Listen to Your Buds, http://www.listentoyourbuds.org. Public education website sponsored by ASHA.

Young Workers - Other Potential Hazards and Solutions - Noise. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/teenworkers/hazards_noise_hearingloss.html.

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