Noise-induced hearing loss has become a widespread and serious public health issue, according to the American Speech, Language and Hearing Association. Recent research suggests that listening to music through an iPod or other device at certain sound levels may be hazardous to hearing at any age.
How does hearing loss occur?
The outer ear receives sound waves and funnels them to the inner ear, where thousands of hair cells transmit sounds to the brain. Scientists believe noise-induced hearing loss happens when the hair cells in the inner ear are damaged, and lose their ability to transmit sound. This type of hearing loss is gradual and painless, but eventually it is permanent.
How loud is too loud?
Sound is measured in decibels. Normal conversational speech is typically 60 decibels; lawn mowers are 90 decibels; car races can reach 110 decibels. Any sound over 85 decibels can damage your hearing. The more intense the sound is, the shorter the amount of time you can be exposed to it before damage occurs.
What can you do to prevent hearing loss?
You can wear protection such as earmuffs and earplugs, or custom-made hearing protectors from an audiologist. Putting cotton in your ears does not work.
Take listening breaks from your iPod or other device to give your ears some recovery time.
Finally, simply turn down the volume and monitor your listening time accordingly. For example, limit use of a digital media player with ear buds to 1.2 hours per day if set at 80 percent of volume; there is no limit if listening at 10-50 percent of volume.
Does the type of earpiece matter?
How loud your digital media player can be depends on the type of headphones you use. In general, the standard ear bud-style headphones that came with your device are slightly louder than over-the-ear-style headphones.
• For additional information about preventing hearing loss, go online to www.turnittotheleft.com.
• For recommended safe iPod listening levels, go to www.phys.org and type “Safe listening levels for Apple iPod” into the search bar; the link will pop up.
ANNE OLSON is an audiologist and associate professor at the University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences, Division of Communication Sciences and Disorders.