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Why Blasting Your iPod Can Damage Your Hearing

Posted 6/20/2016 by UHBlog

Are you straining to hear what people say? We can help.

Why Blasting Your iPod Now Can Damage Your Hearing

Cranking tunes on a portable music player can help keep you energized while jogging, cutting the grass or walking the dog, but it also can cause hearing loss.

That’s why it’s important to use earbuds or other headphones smartly, says audiologist Gail Murray, PhD, MEd.

“The volume of earbuds is limited to 105 decibels, but an average conversation is about 50 to 60 decibels,” she says. “Turning your earbuds all the way up is about 100,000 times more powerful than the sound intensity you need to hear an average conversation.”

Here’s a good rule of thumb: If another person can hear what you’re listening to when you’re wearing earbuds, the volume is too loud. Sustained high-intensity sound over many hours – especially when confined to a small space like the eardrum – can cause hearing loss ranging from temporary to permanent. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re listening to NPR or Nirvana. It’s the volume – not the format – that causes the damage.

Dr. Murray offers these guidelines when using earbuds:

  1. Set the volume at the halfway point.
    “You shouldn’t need to turn it beyond 50 to 60 decibels – half the maximum volume – to appreciate and enjoy music,” she says.
  2. If you insist on listening to it louder – which she discouraged – follow the 80-90 rule: Don’t exceed 80 percent volume for more than 90 minutes.
  3. Give your ears a break before plugging in again.
    “Your rest should be equal to the listening time,” Dr. Murray says. “If you listened for 90 minutes, 10 minutes is not the rest. Give your ears a 90-minute rest.”

According to Dr. Murray, the link between using headphones and hearing loss is gaining attention worldwide.

“In the United States we haven’t applied limits or regulations for (personal listening) devices, but some northern European countries are starting to impose maximum volume limits for concerts and devices, so this may come to the U.S. in time,” she says.

In the meantime, it’s important to monitor your use of earbuds and to contact an audiologist or ear, nose and throat doctor immediately if you find yourself misinterpreting conversations with others.

“If you’re in the habit of listening to loud music and know you’ve potentially exposed your ears to excessive sound, you should schedule an appointment with UH Audiology for a baseline hearing screening,” Dr. Murray says. “It’s easy to get a hearing test and rule (hearing loss) in or out.”

Gail Murray, PhD, MEd, is director of Audiology Services at The Audiology & Cochlear Implant Center in University Hospitals Ear, Nose & Throat Institute. You can request an appointment with Dr. Murray or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

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