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August 18, 2005

Experts warn of deafening growth in personal music

From: Times Online, UK - Aug 18, 2005

By Lewis Smith

THE rapid rise in the sale of iPods and other MP3 players can only increase the risk of long-term hearing loss, users were warned after researchers found that a quarter of listeners to personal music players have the volume at danger levels.

The risk to hearing has long been understood by scientists, but there are now concerns that tens of thousands more people will be affected because of the growth in the market.

Sixteen million people have personal CD players, an increase of more than six million in the past five years, according to a recent Mintel report. Nine million own an MP3 player, most of them personal sets and about a quarter of them iPods. Sales are expected to rise dramatically this year with MP3 manufacturers investing heavily in advertising.

With more than eight million people already suffering some loss of hearing, the increase in personal player usage is likely to cause a significant rise in deafness in coming decades and an extra burden on the National Health Service.

A spokeswoman for the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) said that the latest research, from Australia, supported its concerns about personal music players.

Any rise in the popularity of the players would be expected to cause problems. "We probably will see more people coming forward, but this is obviously over a good number of years," she said.

Researchers from the National Acoustics Laboratories in Sydney issued their volume- level warning after testing passers-by. A sample was selected at random on the streets of Melbourne and Sydney and the volume tested by an artifical ear.

A recent study by the RNID found that 39 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds listened to personal units for at least an hour every day and 42 per cent admitted that they thought they had the volume too high.

Brian Lamb, RNID director of communications, said: "This research from Sydney completely supports RNID's own findings. RNID has been concerned for some time that many people are turning up the volume on their personal stereos to levels that could create hearing loss in the long term.

"This is precisely the case when attempting to drown out unpleasant noise from traffic and on the Tube. There is a danger that long-term use at high volume will permanently damage people's hearing."

The RNID has launched the 'Don't Lose the Music' campaign, urging people to be aware of the risks so that they can continue to enjoy music for longer.

The RNID regards 80 decibels as the level at which hearing is threatened, only 20 decibels lower than the output of a pneumatic drill. A busy shopping centre can generate 60 decibels and a busy street 70. Some MP3 players on the market can reach 105 decibels.

Andrew Reid, of the British Society of Audiology, said: "Many people in noisy situations turn up the volume. They don't realise that there is a real risk in these situations that over time prolonged listening could lead to problems such as tinnitus and hearing loss."

The first signs that personal music players are damaging hearing is a ringing or buzzing noise in the ear. If this persists, users are advised to see their GP.

Young people are the biggest users of personal music players so are the most likely to damage their hearing by having the volume too high. However, it may be years before the effects are recognised.


20dB Quiet room at night

60dB Busy shopping centre

70dB Busy street

80dB Maximum safe level for long exposure

80dB Shouting

90-109dB Nightclubs

100dB Pneumatic drill

110/120dB Rock concert

120dB Jet plane taking off

140dB The level at which sound becomes painful

The RNID advise iPod users to take regular breaks from headphones and turn down the volume a notch

Copyright 2005 Times Newspapers Ltd.