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Are MP3 Devices Causing Teens to Lose Their Hearing?

Teen hearing loss

Parents, do you say your children don’t listen to you? Perhaps it’s because the teens are losing their hearing. A new study from Tel Aviv University reports that 25% of teens are at risk of early hearing loss because they use iPods and other MP3 devices.

Can you hear me?

Losing your hearing at any age is a life-changing situation, and it is somewhat expected among older and elderly adults. But now there is a serious potential for much earlier hearing loss, and that loss can be prevented if the music listening habits of teens and young adults are changed.

According to Professor Chava Muchnik of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Communication Disorders, “in 10 or 20 years it will be too late to realize that an entire generation of young people is suffering from hearing problems much earlier than expected from natural aging.”

The reason for that early hearing loss is the prolonged use of listening devices such as iPods and other MP3 devices, especially by teenagers. And because hearing loss associated with exposure to loud noise is a gradual but progressive process, it takes years before the victims notice the change in hearing.

Teens who use MP3 players are not the only ones who risk early hearing loss. According to H.E.A.R. (a nonprofit hearing information resource for music industry people), musicians and others who are exposed to persistent or frequent loud noise are at risk for hearing loss.

H.E.A.R. notes that people who are exposed to decibels (dB) of 90-120 for extended periods, such as musicians, sound crews, nightclub workers, concert goers, and recording engineers, are at risk for hearing problems. Other groups include some construction workers, regular airline and automobile travelers, motorcycle drivers, and employees of certain manufacturing industries.

Results of early hearing loss study

The Tel Aviv University study consisted of two phases. During phase one, 289 individuals aged 13 to 17 answered questions about their music listening habits on MP3s and similar devices, including the volume of the music and how long they listened to music.

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Seventy-four teens took part in the second phase, during which the investigators measured the listening levels in both quiet and noisy environments. This information was used to determine the potential risk to hearing.

According to the study’s authors:

  • 80% of teens used their MP3 devices regularly
  • 21% used the devices from 1 to 4 hours per day
  • 8% listened more than 4 hours consecutively
  • Measurement of the listening levels indicated that 25% of the teens were at severe risk for loss of hearing

Professor Muchnik recommended that makers of MP3 devices and similar items limit their output to 100 decibels. However, some of the current models put out up to 129 decibels. Use of headphones instead of ear buds is also recommended.

As a comparison, here are some average decibel levels for common sounds:

  • A whisper: 15 dB
  • Normal conversation at 3-5 feet: 60-70 dB
  • Lawnmower: 90 dB
  • Motorcycle or snowmobile: 100 dB
  • Car horn: 110 dB
  • Jet engine or rock concert: 120 dB

Given that some MP3 devices are capable of emitting 129 dB, experts believe there is room for concern. It should also be noted that pain begins at around 120-125 dB.

Are your teens listening to MP3s devices, and if so, how loud is the music? Teens who continue to use MP3 devices are at risk of losing their hearing, perhaps even before their parents do.

American Friends Tel Aviv University

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons