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It has become the norm for teenagers to own a personal listening device (PLD) previously the Walkmans, then the Discman and now iPods, mp3 players and smart phones. Listening to music on-the-move has increased albeit with hazardous consequences, taking into consideration that this music is delivered to the listeners via high quality earphones at very loud volumes.
According to Professor Chava Muchnik of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Communication Disorders, 25% of all teenagers are in danger of early hearing loss as a direct result of their listening habits. The availability of cheap media players and file sharing platforms has helped fuel this listening habit.
The combination of listening habits of teens and the acoustic measurements of their preferred listening levels, were the main tools used for this research by Professor Chava and her colleagues Dr. Ricky Kaplan-Newman, Dr. Noam Amir and Ester Shabtai.
The results was published in the International Journal of Audiology, clearly stating that teens have very harmful music listening habits when it comes to their PLD devices. In “10 or 20 years it will be too late to realize that an entire generation of young people are suffering from hearing problems much earlier than expected from natural aging,” says Professor Muchnik.
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a predicament that can caused by continuous exposure to loud noise. It is gradual and accumulative and can go unnoticed until the damage has been done. Professor Muchnik warns that at the present rate of exposure, we risk having a generation of teens who will suffer from hearing problems in their 30’s and 40’s, much earlier than past generations.
Firstly, the study consisted of 289 teens between the ages of 13-17. They answered questions about their preferred listening levels and the duration of their listening, on their PLDs. Secondly, the measurements of these listening levels were performed on 74 teens in both quiet and noisy environments. The measured volume levels were used to calculate the potential risk to hearing according to the damage risk criteria laid out by Health and Safety Regulations.
80% of teens use their PLDs regularly, with 21% listening from one to four hours daily and 8% listening more than four hours consecutively. Adding this information to the acoustic measurements, the data indicated that 25% of the teens who took part in the research where at a severe risk of hearing loss, warns Professor Muchnik.
Health and Safety regulations at present use industry-related benchmarks in measuring the harm caused by continuous exposure to high volume noise and this is the only available risk criteria. The professor says that an additional risk criteria must be created for music-induced hearing loss. A good example is where manufacturers of PLDs are govern by a standard that limits the maximum output of their products to 100 decibels.
Schools and parents can play a great role in increasing awareness of these dangers, she says. Teens could choose over-the-ear headphones instead of the ear buds that commonly come with an iPod.