Personal Music Players Damage Hearing Over Time

Study found dramatic increase in hearing loss among teen girls who used them

Personal music players may pose a major risk to hearing if they’re played too loudly or for too long, researchers report.

The 24-year study included 8,710 girls from poorer families, average age 16, whose hearing was tested when they entered a residential facility in the northeastern region of the United States. Between 1985 and 2008, high-frequency hearing loss — a common result of excessive noise exposure — among the girls nearly doubled, from 10.1 percent to 19.2 percent.

Between 2001 and 2008, personal music player use among the girls rose fourfold, from 18.3 percent to 76.4 percent. During that same period, high-frequency hearing loss increased from 12.4 percent to 19.2 percent, and the proportion of girls with tinnitus (ringing, buzzing or hissing in the ears) nearly tripled, from 4.6 percent to 12.5 percent, the investigators found.

Girls who listened to personal music devices were 80 percent more likely to have impaired hearing than those who didn’t use the devices, the study authors reported. Of the teens with tinnitus, 99.7 percent used the devices.

Other factors in the girls’ lives — such as poverty, poor air quality, substance abuse and risk-taking behavior — could add to the effects of noise exposure from personal music players, she said.

The findings, released online Aug. 31 in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, indicate the need to improve efforts to educate young people about safe use of personal music players, Berg suggested.

"You have to target them at a much younger age, when they are liable to be more receptive," she said.

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