Hearing loss blamed on iPods

By Christine Ernest
February 2, 2006

Brian Coary

Gina McCabe, a senior psychology major, just received an iPod Nano for Christmas. Delighted with the gift, McCabe listens to the MP3 player walking on the way to class, running errands and while using the gym facilities in the Dixon Center.

“I wanted an iPod because life is just better with a soundtrack. I’ve wanted one since they came out, and now it makes the time go by quicker, especially when I’m at the gym,” McCabe said.

Forbes reports that although there are a plethora of MP3 players, the iPod is the main device used. Since the iPod was first introduced to the market, over 27 million iPods have been sold.

The increased use of popular MP3 players is to blame for hearing loss in younger generations. Other researchers also argue that earbuds that iPods use may be more dangerous than the traditional ear-muff-style headphones, according to The Washington Post.

Pete Townshend, a former guitarist for The Who, recently warned the public, via a blog posting, of hearing damage, especially to those who may use the iPod device. Townshend blames his hearing loss on using studio headphones while recording for repeated years.

“Hearing loss is a terrible thing because it cannot be repaired. If you use an iPod or anything like it, or your child uses one, you may be OK.But my intuition tells me there is terrible trouble ahead,” Townshend wrote.

Studies report that one in seven children and youth aged five to 19 years of age has already suffered some sort of hearing loss, according to Macleans Magazine. These studies were conducted before the popularity of iPods, so experts worry that the number will increase as the exposure to loud music continues.

The Washington Journal reports that there is not enough evidence to prove that the earbuds are more dangerous than other forms of headphones, but researchers like Jerry Punch, a professor of audiology and speech sciences at Michigan State University, beg to differ.

Punch said that when the speakers of the headphones are directly inserted in the ear “it takes much less sound to arrive at a sound level that could be potentially damaging. We’re seeing folks in their early 20s with ears that look – audiometrically – like 50-year-olds’ because they’re exposing themselves to louder and louder levels of sound,” according to The Washington Journal.

The Washington Journal also reports that the majority of doctors all agree that this new epidemic of hearing loss “has more to do with volume and exposure time than headphone style.”

Paul Kileny, a director of audiology at the University of Michigan, said, “These portable devices [MP3 players] are not inherently harmful to hearing because of the way they are coupled to the ear, but there are certainly safe levels at which one can listen to them,” according to Forbes. “My recommendation is to listen as such a level that one can still hear conversation, and other people in their environment do not accuse them of shouting when they attempt to converse,” Kileny said.

The Washington Post reports that research has concluded that iPods can reach maximum volume levels of close to 115 decibels. This level is one that falls between a chainsaw and a jackhammer.

“I try to keep my iPod at a level so that if someone says something to me I’ll be able to respond. I don’t turn it up loud because it hurts my ears. My roommate listens to her iPod really loudly and she doesn’t hear when people talk to her. I think people like her are in danger of hearing loss, but it would be the same for anything of that volume,” McCabe said.

Marshall Chasin, the director of auditory research at the Musicians’ Clinics of Canada, told Macleans that convincing youth to cut back with their iPod use is not easy.

Chasin said, “If you say, ‘Don’t do this or don’t do that,’ they’ll give you the finger. I think the best way to do it is to just say, ‘It’s okay to turn it up when your favorite song comes up, just turn down the volume after that.’ Moderation is the major issue,” according to Macleans.

“I use my iPod frequently, at most two hours a day. I also use it a lot when I’m out running errands. I see people walking around campus using them, they are popular everywhere and not just at Cabrini,” McCabe said.

Tommy Choo, a senior audiologist with the Canadian Hearing Society agrees. Choo compared the new epidemic of hearing loss to the destruction of grass.

Choo said, “If a marching band walks all over your lawn, it just stomps everything to hell. Sooner or later, the grass recovers a bit, but every time you trample it, there are little bits that never come back. It’s permanent damage,” according to Macleans.

“I don’t think using my iPod everyday is going to damage my hearing as long as I keep it to a reasonable level,” McCabe said.

Posted to the web by Brian Coary

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Christine Ernest

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