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Yes, Mom, IPods Can Cause Hearing Loss

Amy in Germantown e-mailed a couple of weeks ago:

"My teenage girls live and die by their iPods. Often I can hear their music from across the room. I think they listen to music turned up too loudly. My girls tell me that I’m just being ‘old-fashioned’. Is it crazy for me to be concerned about hearing loss issues with loud iPods?"

The unequivocal answer for Amy, is yes, Mom, you are not crazy.

To delve into the detail, I consulted with certified audiologist Pamela Mason, who's on staff at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Amy's challenge, Mason says, isn't whether she's right -- which she is. Instead, it's about getting her daughters to listen to what she has to say.

"The first thing is to get as much knowledge about noise-induced hearing loss as possible.

If you are listening to your music too loud or too long or too many times, you run the risk of giving yourself a permanent hearing loss. Parents, once they have learned this, should model the behavior." Some examples of times when parents should use hearing protection, Mason says, are as they listen to loud stereos, ride lawn mowers, use power tools and hunt. You get the picture. Loud noise = ear protection, even for us older folks.

The dangerous thing about ear buds, Mason adds, is that the music doesn't have any space to dissipate before reaching the ear drum. The sound is about 2 centimeters away. With earphones or ear buds, it's much more difficult for others to discern how loud music is, hence the outside world isn't screaming at a person to turn the music down.

"If you can hear someone else’s music through earphones about 2 feet away, that person is running the risk of permanent hear loss," Mason says.

A general rule with iPods and other mp3 devices is to not turn the music up beyond 60 percent -- and no more than halfway is even better. Mason says that there have been some informal looks measuring the decibel levels of mp3 players. Some go up to 120 decibels, she reports. Anything above 85 decibels is a danger zone (normal conversation is about 60 to 65 decibels). Listening to 100 decibels for more than 15 minutes can cause hearing loss.

So, how should Amy communicate all this to her daughters? Once she's modeling the right behavior herself, she should talk to the girls about potential temporary hearing changes they may already be experiencing, like the buzzing and difficulty hearing many of us have experienced after a big concert. Or an inability to discern some words without asking friends to repeat them. And then, she should tell them that their ears age just like the rest of their bodies. After all, they most likely don't want to be a 35 year old with the hearing of a 75 year old, something that's at risk when listening repeatedly to loud music, Mason says.

How loudly do you and your kids listen to your mp3 players? Do you talk about what it could do to their ears? What other advice do you have for Amy?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  April 20, 2009; 7:30 AM ET  | Category:  Health , Teens
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How about letting them talk to people with hearing loss. I know middle aged people with minor hearing loss from loud music 25 years ago, maybe Amy does too. Elderly folks that have hearing loss might be another option.

Or the simple solution would be when you can hear the music cranked in the ipod - take the ipod away.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | April 20, 2009 7:39 AM | Report abuse

One short-term can purchase kid-friendly headphones. I originally got them for my son because the buds didn't fit in his ears, but found that they also have a lower maximum volume. So, he isn't able to turn them up too loud.

Posted by: jljardon2 | April 20, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse

"when you can hear the music cranked in the ipod - take the ipod away."

Sure, it's like taking candy from a baby. Nadda problem.

Cheeky is a meanie.
Cheeky is a meanie.
(repeat til cheeky gives back ipod)

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | April 20, 2009 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Family Almanac just did this exact same letter/question a couple of weeks ago. The advice there was to have the teens write a paper about hearing loss - to which I said, "sure, that'll happen."

I am with cheeky on this one. Take the thing away until they can learn to use it responsibly (at least when they are around you). I guess I am a meanie too. Comes with the Mommy territory.

Posted by: VaLGaL | April 20, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Family Almanac just did this exact same letter/question a couple of weeks ago. The advice there was to have the teens write a paper about hearing loss - to which I said, "sure, that'll happen."

Posted by: VaLGaL | April 20, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Was the letter/question from Amy in Germantown? This is a no-brainer and Amy is really, really stupid. Would she let her girls continue to use something "often" that would threaten their vision? Why would she give a rat's a$s if her kids said that she's "just being ‘old-fashioned’"?

Posted by: jezebel3 | April 20, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Weasel, how do your kids react to you telling them they can't watch "Evil TV"? My kids shrug and say - ok. The oldest is entering tweenerhood, so we'll she if she remains laid back or get sassy.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | April 20, 2009 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Cheeky, last year the kids gave up cable TV and negotiated for a puppy. The plug to the TV was pulled, and the kids never looked back. I don't think I'll ever have to say "No more TV" again. (For myself though, I do miss American Idol)

However, with the other media components, - video games, movies on dbd, text messaging, internet, Facebook, stereo, mp3 players and a few laptops that move around the house, sacrificing the TV was pretty much a non-issue.

One issue that my son's ipod created can be summed up in this single-sided conversation I had with him after the family finished dinner:
me: "What?? You didn't hear me call you for dinner? After I called you 5 times, I figured you weren't hungry. Looks like you're going vegetarian tonight; there's still a few green beans left on the stove."

Ever since then the words, "Dinner is ready" seems to be heard despite the headphones. (I'm still working on saying the words "The trash needs to be taken out" loud enough to be understood, whether he is listening to his ipod or not.

With teenagers, it's more a matter of selective hearing than hearing loss.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | April 20, 2009 12:08 PM | Report abuse

If you have the technological know-how, you can adjust the settings on an iPod to control the maximum volume level and lock it with a password/PIN.

Posted by: peixao | April 20, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

I like the last comment about making the settings acceptable. How about sharing the "truth" from a reliable source like the American Speech and Hearing Association? They offer a lot of free advice related to speech, language and hearing.
I am a speech language pathologist and member of ASHA and know how helpful that organization has been to many people.
Sherry Artemenko

Posted by: playonwordscom | April 20, 2009 7:37 PM | Report abuse

NIDCD has just launched a new campaign called “It's a noisy planet, protect their hearing.” It is geared towards educating parents and kids about hearing loss and its causes (particularly noise induced hearing loss) as well as how to protect themselves. Here is the website:

Posted by: firemom35 | April 21, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

I love the attention grabbing move here of making it about iPods and trying to make this into some modern issue. I am sure the Walkman generation suffered similar issues, except that the sound quality of the devices was worse, so you had to turn it up louder to hear the full dynamic range over the tape hiss.

What about concerts? I don't think they've gotten much louder. Concerts require ear protection, something I wish I had known...

On the other hand, movie theaters have gotten ridiculously loud. Bring ear protection to the theater or stay home.

Posted by: staticvars | April 22, 2009 8:50 AM | Report abuse

I work for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and I second what Sherry said--we have a lot of great information and resources about noise-induced hearing loss. I also recommend the website/campaign firemom35 mentioned.

I admit that before I worked at ASHA I never thought about the issue of hearing loss, even though growing up my dad (a former musician) would warn me to wear ear plugs when I went to concerts, etc. The thing is that you can recommend ear plugs to kids all you want--and just like recommending they wear a hat when it's cold out or a coat in the spring, they're bound to ignore you. Of course, the cliche about listening to your parents turned out to be true: as a result of going to frequent loud concerts I did suffer hearing loss. As un-cool as it may be to wear ear plugs to concerts, it's equally un-cool now to have my husband and kids refer to me as "gramps" when I constantly have to ask them to repeat themselves or turn up the TV so I can hear it!

I suggest that Amy--as well as other parents and teachers take advantage of the fact that May is Better Hearing and Speech month (BHSM)to stress the importance of safe listening. ASHA's Listen to Your Buds website ( has a bunch of games for kids and resources for teachers and parents. It is a really cute site that kids will like, and it's also something teens would think is cute and fun. ASHA also did a video contest for BHSM on YouTube and there are some great videos there, also fun for kids and informative for teachers.

If those things don't interest her teens, they can check out the Listen to Your Buds page on Facebook--if it's on Facebook it has to be cool, right? ;)

Posted by: maggie7 | April 24, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

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