Personal music players may be making teens deaf

A new study has reignited the debate on whether iPods and the like cause hearing loss.

Abbey Berg of New York’s Pace University tracked 8,710 girls, whose average age was about 16, for 24 years. She found that during this period, high-frequency hearing loss — a common result of too much noise — nearly doubled, from 10.1 percent in 1985 to 19.2 percent.

Between 2001, when testers first asked about it, and 2008, personal music player use rose fourfold, from 18.3 percent to 76.4 percent. High-frequency hearing loss increased from 12.4 percent to 19.2 percent during these years, while the proportion of girls reporting tinnitus — ringing, buzzing or hissing in the ears — nearly tripled, from 4.6 percent to 12.5 percent.

Overall, girls using the devices were 80 percent more likely to have impaired hearing than those who did not – and of the teens reporting tinnitus, all but one used personal music players.

However, cautioned Berg, “Just because there’s an association, it doesn’t mean cause and effect.” Other aspects of the girls’ lives might add to the effects of noise exposure.

“This paper offers compelling evidence that the inappropriate use of headphones is indeed affecting some people’s hearing, and the number of ‘some people’ is not small,” said Brian Fligor, director of diagnostic audiology at Children’s Hospital Boston.

The level of impairment detected in this study might have been relatively subtle “but the point is that it is completely avoidable”, said Fligor.

“The ear is going to be damaged throughout your lifetime; what we’re seeing here resembles early onset age-related hearing loss — you might think of it as prematurely aging the ear,” he said.

Berg said her findings suggest that young people need more education about the effects of listening to loud music through headphones. “You have to target them at a much younger age, when they are liable be more receptive,” she said.

The results support the findings of a study published earlier this month which found a large increase in hearing loss amongst adolescents, which was again linked to the use of headphones.

However, research published earlier this year found that the so-called rock ‘n roll generation actually has better hearing than the generation before.