In a recent article from the Atlantic, “How the iPod and Other Audio Devices are Destroying Your Ears,” they discuss the damage we are inducing on our ears with everyday use of portable music players. The volume we blast into our ears day after day can be more than 10 times as loud as the recommended listening setting and the sensory damage caused by prolonged listening is irreversible.
What may start out as difficulty discerning some speech sounds can continue on toward serious hearing loss and other health problems including hypertension and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) from prolonged exposure. This is known as Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL).
NIHL occurs, when sensitive cells in the inner ear are exposed to loud noises. These “hair cells,” which convert sound energy into electrical impulses that are sent to the brain, can’t grow back once they are damaged.
According to the National Institutes of Health, “long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss” — noise louder than city traffic but not as loud as a lawnmower. The louder the sound, the shorter the time it takes to damage hair cells.
At maximum volume, an iPod reaches about 103 decibels, which can cause permanent hearing loss in a matter of minutes while listening through ear buds. In-ear headphones, like the earbuds that come with an iPod, send loud music straight into your ear and directly toward sensitive cells.
For regular iPod users, the negative effects of loud listening might not be immediately noticeable. NIHL can be gradual and not noticed until it is too late. One of the greatest things we can do for ourselves is to prevent loss by being aware, and using hearing protection when possible. Learn more about your hearing health and how you can protect it here.