MP3 players and hearing loss

Young girl listening to an MP3 player

At a glance

  • Watch for warning signs of hearing loss such as vague feelings of pressure or a ringing sound in the ears (tinnitus) when in a quiet place.
  • Lock the volume on your child's MP3 player to a safe listening level (no more than 75dB).
  • If you can hear the music from your child's headphones, it's up too loud.
  • Over-ear headphones are less damaging than in-ear headphones or earbuds.
  • Limit the amount of time your child listens to their MP3 and advise them to give their ears a rest every hour.

It's hard enough trying to get through to your child when they seem to be surgically attached to their MP3 players (such as an iPod). Aside from the ‘selective deafness' that goes with the territory, a more serious and permanent risk of noise-induced hearing loss is becoming a real issue for parents.

Angry Anderson, former frontman of rock band Rose Tattoo, Connect Hearing ambassador and father, says he is particularly concerned about young people and their use of MP3 players, especially when they have them turned up too loud.

"Look, I like loud music but that hasn't done me a lot of good over the years," he says.

"Kids' hearing can't be repaired and mums and dads need to be aware of that."

Listening to music at levels above 80 decibels is going to damage hearing. Dr Brian Morton Australian Medical Association

The loudness of sound is measured in units called decibels (dB). Conversation is generally 60dB. Traffic noise can be around 80dB. Louder noises, such as a plane taking off, a motorcycle or firecrackers can range from 120dB to 140dB. Each increase of 10dB roughly doubles the perceived loudness of the sound.

The volume on MP3 players can reach more than 130dB, depending on the model of player and type of earphones used.

More kids are losing their hearing

Connect Hearing confirms its audiologists are treating a much larger number of younger clients presenting with tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hearing loss related to noise exposure.

Given the popularity of MP3 players, and the tendency to listen to them for long periods of time (while travelling for instance), the risk of permanent hearing loss rises the higher the volume is cranked up.

And the experts say it doesn't have to be ear-splitting to cause damage.

Information on the Connect Hearing website states that consistent use of MP3 players on a regular basis at levels above 75dB can cause hearing loss.

Protecting your child from premature hearing loss

If you can hear the music on your child's MP3 player, they have the volume up too high. Likewise, if your kids shout or raise their voices to speak to you while they are listening to their MP3 player, it's too loud. It can take only 28 seconds of listening at too-high-a-volume to cause permanent hearing damage — and younger children are most vulnerable.

Signs of hearing loss can include:

  • vague feelings of pressure or fullness in the ears
  • sounds becoming distorted or muffled
  • difficulty understanding speech
  • ringing sound in the ears (tinnitus) when in a quiet place.

Dr Brian Morton, NSW President of the Australian Medical Association, says recent studies should encourage manufacturers, parents and users to take greater responsibility for safer listening.

"It comes down to common sense … listening to music at levels above 80 decibels is going to damage hearing. It is also cumulative, so the more you do it, the sooner the damage will occur," he says.

"Parents should get their child's hearing checked if they have any concerns."

Apple Inc, manufacturer of the ubiquitous MP3 player, iPod, has modified its products since these studies were publicised.

Even if your child has an older iPod, you can download a patch from Apple that allows you to set the maximum volume so it never goes above 100dB.

Once you've updated the iPod, lock the settings with a code so it can't be altered.


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