You may not want to hear this, but listen up. The next time you turn up your iPod on the subway or at the gym, be warned that you might be doing more than just annoying the person next to you—you could be seriously damaging your ears. In an evaluation of 56 students, researchers from the University of Florida recently found that 25 percent of students who thought they had normal hearing did not. Seven percent of those students suffered from a 25 or more decibel loss, which is considered to be mild hearing loss, according to the researchers—and the others suffered from a 15 decibel loss.
Researchers believe the damage was due to handheld audio players.
And what's more interesting is that the researchers were shocked by their results. In a press release, lead researcher Colleen Le Prell, an associate professor in the department of speech, language and hearing sciences said, "You would expect normal hearing in that population. The criteria for normal hearing we used for the study were, we thought, extremely liberal criteria."
These findings fall pretty much in line with the other research that has been done over the years about the effect that excessive noise from MP3 players has on our hearing. Just last summer, a Brigham and Women's Hospital study found that hearing loss in young people has risen by one-third in nearly 15 years. A 2009 study from the University of Colorado found that teens were more likely to listen to their music louder than adults and were more likely to not be aware of how loud their music was.
The studies mentioned focus on teens (and researchers are not 100 percent sure that the damage is due to MP3 players), but that doesn't mean we all couldn't benefit from a little iPod intervention. Here are some ways to protect your eardrums:
Turn it Down, Duh: Don't assume that the default setting on your music player is safe or that because there isn't a warning label that you are safe. Just listening to your music on full blast for five minutes a day can increase your chances of developing hearing loss. Experts claim that it’s the safest to listen to MP3 players and computers between 60 and 80 percent of the maximum volume, which leads us into….
Watch the time: If you are like me, you could spend hours a day sitting in front of the computer listening to Pandora while you work. Expert Cory Portnuff, an audiologist at the University of Colorado, suggests listening to your iPod for no more than 90 minutes per day at 80 percent of maximum volume, or four-and-a-half hours at 70 percent. Other experts are more conservative and recommend no more than 60 to 90 minutes a day.
Snug as a bug: Make sure your earphones or ear buds are tightly secure in your ear so that they don’t allow outside noise in. That will keep you from turning the volume up even louder.
Taking care of your ears now will save you from having to trade in your iPod for a hearing aid.
(Photo: Ian Waldie/Getty Images)