The perils of too much headphone use
There's no denying headphones contribute to the convenience of our listening pleasure: We can block out the distractions of the world with a slew of downloaded tunes. But there's also no denying these devices put our aural health, and our very lives, at risk, according to two recent studies. And teens and young adults are those most affected.
Blaring sound into our ears at close range has long been proven to lead to hearing loss and permanent damage. Now new research by Tel Aviv University finds that the music listening habits of teenagers puts one in four teens at risk of early hearing loss as a direct result of listening to iPods, MP3 players and other music devices at high volume--their preferred acoustical hearing level.
The researchers asked study participants about their preferred volumes, and took those decibel measurements and average time spent plugged into their personal listening devices (PLD) daily, to reach their conclusion. The study was published in the International Journal of Audiology.
"In 10 or 20 years it will be too late to realize that an entire generation of young people is suffering from hearing problems much earlier than expected from natural aging," wrote Professor Chava Muchnik of TAU's Department of Communication Disorders in the Stanley Steyer School of Health Professions, in a released statement.
Those teens who misuse PLDs today might find that their hearing begins to deteriorate as early as in their 30s and 40s, much earlier than past generations, warned the researchers. Muchnik recommends that manufacturers adopt European standards that limit the output of PLDs to 100 decibels. Currently some models can reach 129 decibels.
Decibel levels above 90 are considered "extremely loud" by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, which offers resources on noise and what decibel levels are dangerous and safe and what you can do to protect your hearing.
Since 2004, serious injuries to pedestrians listening to headphones have more than tripled, according to research from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
Initiated after reviewing the death of a local Maryland teen, wearing headphones, who died crossing railroad tracks despite the oncoming train's auditory alarms, the study reviewed 116 cases in other states of accidents and injuries involving pedestrians wearing headphones that tune out warning sounds and other aural clues. Seventy percent of those cases ended in fatalities when the pedestrian failed to hear the sound of car or train horns. Young adult males under age 30 accounted for more than two-thirds of the victims.
"Everybody is aware of the risk of cell phones and texting in automobiles, but I see more and more teens distracted with the latest devices and headphones in their ears," wrote lead author Richard Lichenstein, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of pediatric emergency medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center in a released statement.
Two phenomena are likely occurring simultaneously during these accidents, noted the researchers: "Inattentional blindness," caused by electronic devices such as headphones, in which multiple stimuli divide the brain's mental resource allocation; and intensified sensory deprivation, where the ability to hear the warning signals are masked by the sounds produced by the headphones and portable electronic devices.
All the more reason to give your ears a rest.