Keeping Your Ears Safe From the iPod

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November 07, 2006 | 15,279 views

If you turn the volume to maximum on a typical MP3 player, such as an iPod, for more than five minutes a day, it could permanently damage your hearing.

There is a particular danger if you listen in a noisy environment, as that encourages the use of higher-than-safe volumes.

A study measured the sound levels produced through the standard "bud" headphones that come with the players, along with "isolator" earphones that block background noise and "supra-aural" earphones that are placed above the ear.

The researchers concluded that, for all earphone types, most people can listen without harm for 4.6 hours a day at 70 percent of full volume, and 1.2 hours a day at 80 percent of full volume.

But full volume listening should not exceed five minutes a day for bud earphones, three minutes with noise-reduction earphones, or 18 minutes with the supra-aural style.

However, according to a second study that examined the dependence of volume choice on background noise and earphone styles, noise-reduction earphones encourage listening at lower volumes when there is loud background noise, so are more highly recommended than the other styles.

MP3 players are truly one of the most amazing innovations of modern technology. It was nearly incomprehensible when I was in school to think we could store so many hundreds of hours of high-quality audio in a device that weighed a few ounces.

One of my favorite uses of MP3 players is to convert my exercise time to learning time. It is a marvelous opportunity to exercise not only your body but your mind. After all, it always seems that there is never enough time to learn all the exciting things that life has to offer.

However, like most technologies there is a dark side of these awesome gadgets. If you use them to listen to music (which I rarely do) they can easily harm your ears permanently, if you're not careful.

You may recall Colleen Huber's awesome piece last fall about all the things that conspire to impair our hearing, including the iPod.

Noise-induced hearing loss is on the rise among the young; some 65 percent of those with hearing problems are below retirement age. Audiologists believe that part of the problem is the number of gadgets that send amplified sound directly into the ear canal, such as cell phones and MP3 players.

The methods of preventing this kind of hearing loss are mostly common sense:

  • Limit your exposure to noisy activities, and take breaks of silence to recuperate.
  • Turn down the volume of your MP3 player, and purchase noise-reduction earphones so you can hear it at quieter volumes.
  • Avoid drugs that can impair your hearing.

Researchers have also found that vitamin E can aid in the prevention and restoration of hearing loss. A study found that hearing loss patients who received a treatment that included taking vitamin E had a 75 percent hearing recovery rate, whereas those who received the same treatment without the vitamin E had only a 45 percent recovery rate.

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