Cranked-up Music on Headphones Can Lead To Hearing Loss
Hearing Loss, iPod and MP3 Player
U-M audiologist offers tips for enjoying your iPod without causing damage to your ear drums.
Nothing is innately unhealthy about listening to iPods and other MP3 players, but listening to them with the volume turned up too high can cause lasting damage and irreversible hearing loss, a University of Michigan audiologist cautions.
Listeners should avoid blasting the sound so high that they can't hear surrounding conversations or so that others can hear the music from the listener's headphones or earbuds, says Paul R. Kileny, Ph.D., director of audiology in the U-M Department of Otolaryngology.
"These portable devices are not inherently harmful to hearing because of the way they are coupled to the ear, but there are certainly safe levels at which one can listen to them," Kileny says. "My recommendation is to listen at such a level that one can still hear conversation and other people in their environment do not accuse them of shouting when they attempt to converse."
The effects of listening to music turned up too loudly can be permanent, Kileny says. He notes that he and other doctors in his field are seeing more and more young people with noise-induced hearing loss.
"As you pass some of these young people, you can actually hear the music radiating from under those little headphones," says Kileny, also a professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases and a member of the Geriatrics Center. "That is a sure sign that the individual listening to that music is listening at a level that is too loud, and, therefore, in the long run is risky to the status of their hearing."
While it is ultimately up to listeners to control the sound emanating from their headphones, Kileny and other audiologists recommend that sound controls built in to the devices would be extremely helpful in encouraging people to keep the volume at reasonable levels. In turn, such controls could help reduce the number of people with early sound-induced hearing loss, he says.
"With these personal audio players, there are no built-in electronic safety cut-offs or safety devices that preclude listening at a dangerous level or that at least inform the wearer that he or she has reached a level which might be risky to hearing," Kileny says. "It's very simple technology that could be built into these devices."
The controls could be as simple and unobtrusive as a warning light that turns on when the sound surpasses a certain decibel level, he says. That could be especially useful for people who tend to listen to music through headphones or earbuds in noisy places, such as buses or subways, he says.
In addition to hearing loss, listening to music too loudly can lead to tinnitus, a ringing, whistling or clicking sound in the ears. The American Tinnitus Association estimates that up to 90 percent of all tinnitus patients have some level of noise-induced hearing loss.
"Any kind of sound