Study confirms dangers of portable music players

Listening to personal music devices such as iPods at high volume over a long period can permanently damage hearing, according…

Listening to personal music devices such as iPods at high volume over a long period can permanently damage hearing, according to a new EU study.

Research carried out by the EU Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) has found that up to 10 per cent of listeners risk permanent damage to their hearing if they listen to a personal music player for more then an hour a day over successive weeks at high volume.

An EU safety standard currently restricts the noise level of personal music players to 100 dB, but there is now concern that new measures may have to be introduced to further restrict volume levels in light of the latest research.

SCENIHR's research indicates that users of personal music players who listen to over five hours of music a week at high volume (exceeding 89 decibels) would exceed the current limits in place for noise allowed in the workplace. Listening for longer periods over 5 years can risk permanent hearing loss, the authors of the study say.

The increase in sales of portable audio devices and MP3 players in the EU has been phenomenal with estimates suggesting sales of between 184 and 246 million for portable audio devices and sales of between 124 and165 million for MP3 players over the past four years.

Other studies have also revealed evidence that listening to music at excessive levels via portable players can produce temporary and reversible hearing impairment such as tinnitus and slight deafness.

Speaking today, EU consumer affairs commissioner Meglena Kuneva, said she was concerned that young people may be unknowingly damaging their hearing irrevocably.

"The scientific findings indicate a clear risk and we need to react rapidly. Most importantly we need to raise consumer awareness and put this information in the public domain. We need also to look again at the controls in place, in the light of this scientific advice, to make sure they are fully effective and keep pace with new technology," she said.

The European Commission said it intends to organise a conference early next year to discuss introducing new measures to protect citizens.

Earlier this year, a leading audiologist warned that one in six Irish people suffer some hearing difficulties with portable audio players increasingly cited as a cause of hearing loss.

Speaking during Hearing Awareness Week in January, Keith Ross, an audiologist with the Hidden Hearing clinic warned that young people were unaware of the fact that loud noise could cause irreparable damage.

"Noise-induced hearing loss is cumulative; it happens gradually over time so a young person will not know that they are doing damage. It's key that volume is kept relatively low ensuring they can still hear the sounds outside when wearing their earphones," he said.

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor is a former Irish Times business journalist