MP3 Players Pose Hearing Risk, Israeli Researchers Say

TAU study shows one quarter of Israeli teens are at risk of developing hearing loss due to frequent use of personal music players at high volume.

One quarter of Israeli teens are at risk of developing hearing loss due to frequent use of personal music players at high volume, according to a recent Tel Aviv University study.

Researchers at the university's Department of Communication Disorders interviewed 289 Israelis between the ages of 13 to 17 regarding their listening habits. Eighty percent reported "regular" use of MP3 music players; 41 percent reported daily use of the devices and 19 percent said they listen more than once a day.

Headphones - Daniel Tchetchik
Daniel Tchetchik

When it came to the duration of listening, 69 percent said they use music players for more than 30 minutes every day, 21 percent reported listening for between one and four hours every day and 8 percent said they listen for more than four hours every day, consecutively. Nearly a third of respondents, 31 percent, reported listening at high or very high volumes.

About half of the teens reported hearing problems after listening to loud music, with 21 percent reporting temporary hearing loss and 11 reporting hearing ringing or hissing noises.

The second phase of the study involved assessing each subject's preferred listening volume in both quiet and noisy environments. More than 80 percent of the teens reported listening to music while in a bus or car, situations that are considered noisy. Researchers concluded that the average listening volume among the subjects was 89 decibels. Health and safety regulations limit exposure for factory workers to eight consecutive hours at levels of 85dBA, with a 50-percent reduction in the permissible time allowed for every 3dBA increase in noise intensity. Some of the teenagers in the study reported listened to music at levels of 100dB.

Lead researcher Prof. Chava Muchnik told Haaretz, "When it comes to leisure culture, Israel has regulations concerning noise exposure at events such as wedding and concerts, but for personal music players we don't follow European laws that forbid selling music players that reach volumes above 100dB."

"Awareness is the best way to prevent future hearing problems," Muchnik said. "We're talking about damage resulting from years of accumulated damage, without the teenager being aware of the problem. Awareness is even more important in these times, when technology enables one to listen to high-fidelity sound at very loud volume, and to store more music in the players, a fact that contributes to longer exposure. Moreover, younger children are already using music players, and nowadays one can find music players in elementary schools as well," Muchnik said.

Department members are working on developing a device similar to those worn by people who work with radioactive materials to warn them of exposure to dangerously high levels of radiation.

The researchers recommend that European regulations regarding music players be adopted in Israel, as well as the development of educational programs about the danger of noise exposure. They pointed to road-safety campaigns as a model that could be emulated.

Read this article in Hebrew.