Teens' MP3 Habits May Up Hearing Loss

Adults Listen Longer, but Teens Turn the Volume Up Higher

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on March 16, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

March 16, 2006 -- New surveys show double trouble for high school students when it comes to hearing loss.

First, high school students were more likely than adults to report any of these possible signs of hearing loss:

  • Needing to turn up the volume on their TV or radio: 28% of students and 26% of adults
  • Saying "what" or "huh" during normal conversation: 29% of students and 21% of adults
  • Having tinnitus (ringing in the ears): 17% of students and 12% of adults

Second, high school students were much more likely than adults to admit playing their iPods and other MP3 players at loud volumes. More than half (59%) of students reported playing their MP3 players loudly, compared with 34% of adults.

The survey was done by Zogby International for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).

On the Road to Hearing Loss?

The surveys, done by telephone, included 1,000 adults and 301 high school students nationwide.

The findings don't prove that MP3 players are responsible for students' hearing problems. The data don't specify whether students with hearing problems were those who cranked up the volume on their MP3 players, and the students' hearing wasn't checked during the surveys.

Adults typically played electronic devices at lower volumes. But they logged more time listening to their MP3s, possibly while commuting, states an ASHA news release.

"Louder and longer is definitely not the way to use these products," says Brenda Lonsbury-Martin, PhD, in the news release. She is ASHA's chief staff officer for science and research.

Turn It Down?

Nearly 70% of students said they were "likely" to turn down the volume while using earphones to listen to electronic devices.

However, 58% said they weren't likely to cut down on the time they spent listening to such devices with earphones on. Also, most students (64%) doubted that they would buy specially designed earphones to help prevent hearing loss.

Adults replied a bit differently. Half said they were likely to turn down the volume, but only 28% said they were likely to cut back on listening time or wear special earphones to avoid hearing loss.

Loud, Noisy World

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) asked the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) to review research on portable music players and hearing loss.

"Young people live in a loud and noisy world," NIDCD Director James Battey Jr., MD, PhD, responded in a letter to Markey. "In this age of the escalating use of personal stereo systems, hands-free cell phones, and portable movie/game systems, youth worldwide are exposed to harmful levels of noise every day.

"Scientists generally agree that, over time, this can lead to permanent noise-induced hearing loss by damaging and/or destroying the inner ear's sensory cells," the letter continues.

Experts' Advice

MP3 players are relatively new, so more research is needed. Meanwhile, the NIDCD's letter offers some advice for users of personal music devices.

"If you cannot hear people speaking near you while listening to your music, then the volume on your device is too high," the letter states. "In addition, consumers should limit the amount of time they listen to their devices."

Lastly, the letter notes that "researchers had suggested that users set the volume of their music player no higher than 60% of the maximum, and use it for no more than one hour a day."

Show Sources

SOURCES: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: "Survey of Teens and Adults about the Use of Personal Electronic Devices and Head Phones," March 2006. News release, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Edward Markey, U.S. House of Representatives, Letter to James Battey, MD, PhD. James Battey Jr., MD, PhD, director, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, Letter to the Honorable Edward J. Markey.
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