“Listening to MP3 players at high volume increases the risk of deafness in later life,” The Independent reported. It said earphones that fit into the ear canal can intensify music volume, which can reach over 120 decibels, the same level of noise as a jet engine.
This news report is based on an editorial in the British Medical Journal. The article reflects the opinions of the author following his assessment of the current levels of preventable hearing loss and related evidence.
This review indicates that, although there is little direct evidence that personal music players cause hearing loss, there is cause for concern. The use of MP3 players has risen dramatically in recent years, and it seems reasonable to assume that playing music at high volume through earphones placed directly in the ear canal may damage hearing. As the author rightly concludes, further studies are needed to clarify the risk to hearing from listening to MP3 players, with the aim of developing evidence-based guidelines for safe usage and volume limits.
Where did the story come from?
The news articles are based on an editorial published in the British Medical Journal. This opinion piece was written by Professor Peter Rabinowitz from Yale University School of Medicine. The article was commissioned and was not externally peer reviewed. The news stories accurately reflected the points raised in this article.
What kind of research was this?
The author discussed the risk factors and causes of preventable hearing loss due to excessive noise.
This editorial reflects the views and opinions of the author following his assessment of the current situation and evidence for preventable hearing loss. It is unclear if the referenced material was gathered systematically and if the author identified all relevant research. As such, without further analysis of the evidence cited in the article, it is not possible to comment on the validity of these findings.
What did the review say?
The author says that 16% of US citizens between the ages of 20 and 69 are currently affected by some degree of hearing loss. He states that the leading preventable cause of hearing loss is excessive noise, which causes irreversible loss of hair cells in the cochlear (a structure in the inner ear involved with hearing). This hearing loss used to be associated with noisy occupations, such as drilling or use of firearms. However, there is growing concern that it is increasingly affecting children and young adults due to amplified music, particularly through the use of personal music devices. Surveys have reportedly found that 90% of young people regularly use MP3 players, often at full volume. The author says that earphones that fit inside the ear put hearing at greater risk than “over the ear” phones, and volumes can reach 120 decibels, the same level as a jet engine.
The author mentions small studies that reportedly found that poorer hearing in young people is associated with the use of MP3 players. A 2001 US health survey found that 12.5% of children aged 6–19 had audiograms (a chart of a person’s hearing ability) suggestive of noise-induced hearing loss. However, another 1985–2004 study of young US adults entering an industrial workforce found that the annual average high-frequency hearing of the new employees improved over that period. The author says it is, therefore, unclear whether young people as a group are losing their hearing faster than previous generations. However, it is possible that, as the use of personal music players has only recently increased greatly, the effects are only just becoming detectable. He also mentions the theory that chronic exposure to low-level noise may “toughen” the ears, making them more resistant to damage. An additional concern is the distraction caused by MP3 players, which may be as distractive as a mobile phone and could be a safety hazard while driving (as shown by a small number of studies).
The author considers this an emerging health concern and calls for measures to be taken to reduce people’s exposure to excessive noise wherever possible. Suggested ways to do this could include limiting the noise output of MP3 devices, doctors advising users not to listen at too high a volume, and advising people to remove earphones while driving and performing other safety-sensitive tasks.
How did the author interpret the findings?
The author concluded that, “although evidence based guidance is lacking, the importance of hearing loss as a public health problem makes it reasonable to encourage patients of all ages to promote ‘hearing health’ through avoidance of excessive noise exposure.”
He calls for more comprehensive surveys and follow-up studies of the hearing health of young people, both to further clarify the role of MP3 players in hearing loss, and to develop evidence-based guidelines for safe usage.
This narrative review warns of the dangers of hearing loss caused by personal music players. It is backed up by references from several studies on the issue. The author discusses the rise in use of MP3 players in recent years and the reported frequent use of the devices at maximum volume.
This editorial reflects the views and opinions of the author following his assessment of current levels of, and evidence for, preventable hearing loss. Although it is unclear if this evidence was gathered systematically or gives an accurate overall picture of the current situation, the author has raised several valid points which merit further study.
This review indicates that there is little direct evidence that personal music players cause hearing loss. However, their use has risen dramatically in recent years, and it seems a reasonable assumption that playing music at high volume through earphones placed directly in the ear canal could damage both short- and long-term hearing. As the author rightly concludes, further longer-term studies are required to clarify the role of personal music players in hearing loss, with the aim of developing evidence-based guidelines for safe usage and volume limits.
Analysis by Bazian
Edited by NHS Website
Links to the headlines
The Daily Telegraph, 21 April 2010
Daily Mirror, 21 April 2010
Daily Mail, 21 April 2010
The Independent, 21 April 2010
Links to the science
British Medical Journal 2010; 340:c1261
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, Issue 3
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, Issue 4