A Parent`s Guide to Safe Portable Music Device Use.

A Parent`s Guide to Safe Portable Music Device Use.
Turn ‘em Down or Turn ‘em Off:
A Parent’s Guide to Safe Portable Music Device Use.
By: Michele P. Phillips, Au.D., CCC-A
Clinical Audiologist
Do you know how loud that music is your child is listening to? Did you know it could be
loud enough to permanently damage their hearing? At peak volume, iPods, MP3 players,
and other personal ear-level devices can reach 110 to 120 dB, which approach the level of
a live rock concert. Granted, few people actually listen to music at a painfully loud level,
but, indisputably, most listen louder than what is necessary. And yes, many personal
devices now have a volume cap parents can set and lock, but the issue these days is more
than just the volume level. The longer, rechargeable battery life and greater music
storage capacity people have grown to love and expect is also what encourages and
allows these people to listen longer and not give their ears a chance to recover. It is the
combination of high intensity and long duration that creates risky conditions for early
hearing loss. Physician studies have reported younger and younger patients with signs of
early hearing loss.
Remember when your parents repeatedly yelled “turn that music down!”? Well, with this
generation that is plugged in 24/7, parents aren’t yelling that stuff anymore because
parents can’t tell how loud the music actually is. Not to mention we’re also seeing a very
different level of use than we did in the past. Listening via portable music players has
become more of a full-day listening experience as opposed to just when you’re jogging.
Many adults and children are using these devices not just to enjoy music, but also to
block out ambient noise on buses, in cars, on the street, in restaurants, etc. They tend to
crank up the volume to compensate for the surrounding noise and don’t even realize they
may be causing damage to their ears. This accumulated noise damage may take years
before it causes noticeable hearing problems, but by then it’s too late.
Hearing is a complex process. Tiny hair cells in the inner ear amplify sound vibrations
and convert them into signals the brain can interpret/understand. Exposure to excessively
loud sounds damages these delicate hair cells and their ability to transfer sound to the
brain, which causes noise-induced hearing loss. The effects can be temporary, like after a
single concert, and hair cells can recover. However, constant repeated exposure can
weaken and eventually kill hair cells, causing permanent hearing loss. Children’s ears
are even more sensitive than adults because their ears are so much smaller and sounds
entering the ear canal become louder because they are generated in a smaller space. So
basically again, the longer and louder you listen, the greater the potential for lasting
damage.
But there IS good news, for the kids anyway…use of these devices does not need to be
eliminated to protect their hearing (although the potential loss of whatever device is
certainly a great incentive for kids to follow our directions!). Several studies over the
years have determined that is relatively safe to listen to a portable music player set to no
higher than 60% of its potential maximum volume for one hour a day (not for hours at a
time). If listeners are willing to turn the volume down even further, they can increase the
amount of time they can safely listen. One informal rule of thumb is if you have to
remove the headset, or turn the volume down to hear people talking to you, it’s too loud.
Concern over the risk of hearing loss also has companies such as Shure, Etymotic
Research, Bose, Sony and Panasonic producing headset styles that aim to block out
background noise so you can hear the music better at lower volumes. These products can
be pricey, but worth it. And for all you techy parents out there, there is uHear, a sound
app for the iPhone and iPOD Touch that enables you to test your own hearing sensitivity.
Remember, turning down the music today will ensure your children will be able to hear
the music in the future.
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