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Turn That Thing Down!

If you’re like most people, chances are you listen to music on some type of portable device--be it an MP3 player, a cell phone, a tablet or a laptop. You might even still use a portable CD or tape player! Whether you’re a young person who has never seen a cassette tape, or an adult who can’t get over how much music can fit on an iPod nano, you’ve probably been told at some point in your life to turn down the volume.

Why should anyone care how loud your music is if you’re wearing headphones or earbuds? Well, believe it or not, they were probably concerned that you would damage your hearing, and rightly so!

Research has already shown that noise-induced hearing loss adds up over your lifetime. But how loud is too loud? Health Canada scientists have studied the MP3 listening habits of children and adolescents from 15 Canadian schools to find out whether they were listening at volumes that could cause hearing loss.

To start, the researchers asked students questions about:

  • how they typically used their MP3 player (e.g. how often, how loud, how long)

  • the type of headphones or earphones they used and how they fit

  • their general hearing health (e.g. hearing-related problems such as trouble hearing, ringing in ears, ear infections)

Next, the researchers asked each student to choose two volume settings on his or her MP3 player:

  1. a typical (average) listening volume

  2. a maximum (high) listening volume

They then used these pre-determined settings along with self-reported listening time to estimate the risk to each student’s hearing. Actual hearing tests were also carried out in a portable sound booth.

So what did they learn from all this?

The researchers found that 3% of participants were at risk for hearing loss under their typical listening conditions. This number rose to 9% under the students’ maximum-volume listening conditions. Creating a tighter fit between the ear and earbud or headphone (by pushing it tighter it to the ear or wearing the earbuds or headphones under a hat or ear muffs) was associated with higher measured sound pressure levels (and therefore, greater risk).

One quarter of the young people tested also self-reported symptoms of hearing loss.

Overall, the hearing test results showed that 23% of the students did in fact have some measurable hearing loss. And those who reported involvement in other activities with high noise exposure, such as motorcycling or playing music in a band, were at an even higher risk for hearing loss.

So there you have it. Your parents were right all along: you really DO need to keep it down!

For more information, please visit the Health Canada website.

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