Music lovers are being warned that the popular 'earbud' headphones worn by users of iPods and MP3 players could lead to hearing loss.
The warning comes from Dean Garstecki, a Northwestern University audiologist and professor, who said that because earbuds are placed directly into the ear, they can boost the sound signal by as much as six to nine decibels.
During the 1980s, when Walkman portable devices first hit the market, audiologists were warning users about potential hearing loss. Nowadays, with MP3 players topping the Christmas wish lists of people all over the world, history is repeating itself and Garstecki is urging safer use of earphones.
"We're seeing the kind of hearing loss in younger people typically found in aging adults. Unfortunately, the earbuds preferred by music listeners are even more likely to cause hearing loss than the muff-type earphones that were associated with the older devices," Garstecki said.
As well as a more intense sound signal, today's music devices have longer battery life and the ability to store vast amounts of music, facts which Garstecki says encourage users to listen for longer periods of time than their 1980s counterparts.
The audiologist claims that he has known students to listen to music at 110 to 120 decibels. "That's a sound level that's equivalent to the measures that are made at rock concerts," said Garstecki, "and it's enough to cause hearing loss after only about an hour and 15 minutes."
So what can we do? One solution Garstecki suggests is the 60 percent/60 minute rule, whereby people use their MP3 devices for no more than about an hour a day and at levels below 60 percent of maximum volume. "If music listeners are willing to turn the volume down further still and use different headphones, they can increase the amount of time that they can safely listen," Garstecki added.
Noise-cancelling headphones are another suggestion because they reduce or eliminate background noise. However, such headphones are often less popular with the fashion-conscious as they are much more visible than the tiny earbuds and often more expensive too.
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