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I Want My MTV (a bit softer please)

You wouldn’t expect cable staple music channel, MTV, to be overly concerned about hearing loss. Head-banging-speed-metal has been around for a couple of decades and MTV has had plenty of these videos in its play list rotation over the years. But, in fact, MTV.com, in conjunction with the prestigious Vanderbilt Medical College, recently published a joint study that showed long-term exposure to loud music causes hearing loss.

  • 75% of those studied own an MP3 player.
  • 24% listen to their MP3 players more than 15 hours a week.
  • Nearly half of study respondents report listening to their MP3 players at 75% to 100% of max listening volume.
  • MP3 users increase the volume to block out already-loud street noise. In this case, these music players can pump out ear-damaging levels of “background” noise. You may be in your own little world walking down a city street but your ears are paying a price for each second you blast them with your favorite music.
  • 32% of the 2,500 study subjects report ringing in the ears, a condition that is often permanent. (Like to live with that for the next 50 years!?)

Loud Music and Your Ears


Apparently, not enough teens and older head bangers (you know who you are) are getting the message that the correlation between long exposure to loud music and hearing loss has been demonstrated in numerous, respected studies.

Even so, we see kids and adults walking around, ear buds in place, listening to the 10,000 downloaded songs at headache-inducing volume on their iPod.

How’s this for a title: “Intentional Exposure to Loud Music: The 2nd MTV.com Survey Reveals An Opportunity To Educate.” Authored by Dr. Roland Eavey, M.D., the study was recently published in the Journal of Pediatrics. Based on research conducted in 2007, the study was a follow-up to an initial, breakthrough study conducted in 2002 to determine if hearing loss was on the increase.

All part of the fun. Come on, admit it. You used to like your music a whole lot louder back in the day. And if now is your day, loud music is as natural as Mountain Dew and bubble gum. Loud music is part of the experience. (It’s also fun.)

“Hearing loss is so prevalent that it has become the norm,” said Dr. Eavey, head of the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkersen Center and Chair of the Department of Otolaryngology. “We know where we’re headed; it would be a miracle if we don’t end up with problems later on.Studies show that 90% of males age 60 and over have hearing loss.”

That means the odds are pretty good that, if you’re 60 or older, you probably have a degree of hearing loss. If you’re 60, you were at Woodstock, you cranked up the 8-track in the Gremlin and life was good. In fact according to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) one in three persons over the age of 65 has hearing loss.

Is Hearing Protection Education the Answer?

Dr. Eavey’s study also examined various means to address the spread of noise-induced hearing loss – something that can, in fact, be avoided to a significant degree with precautions. However, the study results were a bit surprising.

Eavey’s report indicated that the media was the most effective option in turning down the volume for the sake of hearing health. Public service announcements (PSAs) that encourage music lovers to love it a little less seem to have some impact, perhaps because the media reach more eyeballs and ears.

What surprises professionals the most about this unusual study is that the medical community is the least effective source of information about the dangers of long-term exposure to loud noise.

Of course, with this study complete, several reasonable conclusions can be drawn to explain why hearing professionals aren’t very effective at teaching about the dangers of permanently embedded ear buds. First, young people and middle-grounders don’t usually visit hearing professionals unless there’s a problem. Second, when they visit their family doctors, the subject of “ear bud deafness” is not going to be at the top of the examining room agenda.

You Protect Yourself In Other Ways, Why Not Your Hearing?

From the study’s author: “We have learned that the audience does use public health behaviors like sunscreen, designated drivers and seat belts.” So why risk hearing loss by intentional exposure to loud noise over long periods?

Dr. Eavey continues: “…hearing loss from excessive volume [of music] is preventable… and once [hearing loss] happens, the loss is permanent and can not be reversed. Even hearing aids might not help that type of hearing loss and the ringing of the ears [tinnitus] that can occur.

It is kind of like a bus heading for the brick wall,” Dr. Eavey went on. “Do you need to show that the bus crashed into the wall before you can report it?”

The study clearly shows that, as a culture, we are heading for a potential hearing loss epidemic. We are surrounded by noise throughout the day, no matter where we live or work.

MP3 players when not used responsibly, according to the MTV.com/Vanderbilt study, do cause hearing loss.

What To Do If You Can’t Live Without Music

loud music and hearing damage
You don't have to live without music, just enjoy it responsibly

You don't have to live without your music. You simply must live responsibly with it.

One teen reported that he sleeps with his MP3 locked and loaded and playing at a loud volume, so even as he sleeps he’s exposing his ears to dangerous sound levels.

Part of the problem is a lack of education. It’s unlikely that teens or persons in their 20s will visit a hearing professional unless a problem already exists. However, this population routinely visits their family physicians who can serve as a front-line resource in lowering the incidence of noise-induced hearing loss.

The family physician should routinely ask patients if they use an MP3 player, for how long, at what volume and so on. If the physician feels that a danger of hearing loss exists, s/he can instruct the patient in the safe use of these pocket music makers. But, will they listen?

Well, according to a Vanderbilt Medical College Newsletter, “Children and adults at risk of permanent hearing loss due to repeated exposure to loud music would turn down the sound or use ear protection if told to do so by a health care professional.” Sounds good.

Clearly, education works. Now, it’s up to the entire medical community to spread the word about the dangers of intentional exposure to loud music via MP3.

And as an MP3 user, what should you take away from the MTV.com study? Listening to your MP3 is ok if the volume is not cranked. Give your ears a break. Unplug after 90 minutes and give your ears the chance to rest.

Finally, just turn it down a notch or two or three. You’ll still get pumped without pumping serious sound waves down your ear canal, damaging your one and only hearing system.

If you suspect you’ve done some damage, see a hearing professional for a baseline hearing test. It is quick, easy and doesn’t hurt.

Remember, there are no magic hearing loss remedies. Once it’s gone it’s gone, so take care of your hearing now.

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