Young MP3 users at risk of hearing loss
Teens who use MP3 players are not taking precautions to protect their hearing and are at risk of hearing loss.
The huge increase in the popularity of portable MP3 players has increased young people's exposure to high sound levels dramatically. Studies in the past have reported that increasing numbers of adolescents and young adults now experience symptoms indicative of poor hearing, such as distortion, tinnitus, hyperacusis or threshold shifts.
To understand how often young people took measures to protect their hearing while listening to MP3 players, as well as how frequently they took risks, researchers from Netherlands surveyed 1,687 boys and girls aged between 12 and 19 years from 68 classes attending Dutch secondary schools. The students were asked to complete questionnaires on their music-listening behaviours, under supervision at school.
They were questioned about the frequency of use, exposure time per day, level of volume, kind of earphone used and whether warned against risks of high volume music. Users of MP3 players were classified into 3 categories - infrequent users (those who reported using their MP3 players an average of <1 hour/week), moderate users (those who reported using their MP3 players between 1 hour/week and 1 hour/day), and frequent users (those who reported using their MP3 players >1 hour/day).
It was found that about one third of the MP3 users listened to music on the players frequently, and 48 per cent listened to music at high volumes, defined as more than 75 percent volume. Ninety three per cent of the MP3 users listened to music with earbud earphones, which are about 5 decibels louder than over-the-ear listening devices. Fewer than 7 per cent used a noise limiter on their MP3 or turned down the volume after listening for a while, while just about 18 per cent said they took breaks during listening or paid attention to warnings about the risks of listening to loud music.
The above findings indicate that when using MP3 players, adolescents are very likely to engage in risky listening behaviours and are unlikely to seek protection. Moreover, frequent MP3 player use is an indicator of other risky listening behaviours, such as listening at high volumes and failing to use noise-limiters. Although girls listened to music on MP3 players relatively more often than did boys and also used earbudstyle earphones more often, boys listened at high volume relatively more often than did girls. This means that both genders were likely to be at risk of hearing loss.
The researchers were unable to clarify what poses the greatest threat to hearing conservation. They recommend parental monitoring in adolescents' music-listening behaviors and prevention at elementary school age to be the most effective way of increasing children's awareness of the risks of high-volume music.
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