MP3 Players May Be Major Source of Hearing
FRIDAY, Dec. 30 (HealthDay News) -- A new study suggests that
about 90 percent of New York City residents may be at risk of
hearing loss due to noise exposure, with MP3 players appearing to
be a major culprit.
The research has major limitations: It doesn't directly measure
what Big Apple residents hear during their daily lives or
physically track their activities. Even so, the study's lead author
said the findings are a sign that risks to hearing lurk in the
"We need to step up our efforts to encourage people to protect their hearing," said Richard Neitzel, an assistant professor of risk science at the University of Michigan. "Maybe we need to put a little more money into making transit quieter and do a better job educating people that listening to music, if it's loud enough, can hurt you."
Previous research has tracked the loudness of the noise that
people encounter from transportation like subways and ferries,
Neitzel said. But it wasn't clear how much time people spent being
exposed to the noise.
For the new study, Neitzel and colleagues created a survey that
they gave to more than 4,500 New York City residents who were
recruited at street fairs in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the
Bronx. The participants in the 2008 and 2009 surveys received a $1
lottery ticket in exchange for taking part and answering questions
about topics like their work lives, their time spent on transit and
The researchers then estimated how much noise the subjects were
exposed to based on previous research into how much sound is
produced by transit, music players and other sources.
It would be more ideal to use devices that measure noise to
figure out how much sound the subjects were exposed to each day,
Neitzel acknowledged. But that's an expensive and complicated
proposition, he noted. Instead, he said, "we took the approach of
talking to people about how long they spend doing these
The findings recently appeared online in the journal
Environmental Science & Technology.
The researchers found that almost two-thirds of the subjects
mainly risked being exposed to noise through listening to music,
Neitzel said. "What's happening to them at work isn't putting their
hearing at risk as much as listening to MP3 players and going out
to concerts," he said.
Ten percent of those who used transit were at risk of hearing
loss from transit alone, Neitzel said. Also, "nine out of 10 of New
Yorkers are at risk of hearing loss when you look at their total
noise exposure: MP3 players plus work plus riding transit."
People, of course, have been listening to music players of
various types for decades. Neitzel acknowledged that but said one
key difference is that the players work for longer periods than in
the past, when batteries would run out after a while.
The research has value, said acoustics specialist Warwick
Williams, who's familiar with the study findings. "Instead of
hearsay and guesswork, we can actually say what people are exposed
to, how loud and how long," said Williams, a senior research
engineer at Australia's National Acoustic Laboratories.
"Can people estimate how much noise they are exposed to and how noisy their lifestyle is or may be? The answers to these questions appears to be yes," he said. However, he added that statistics like these are more accurate reflections of people overall than individuals.
The next step, study author Neitzel said, is to determine
whether hearing loss is as common as the research would
For now, said Williams, "without trying to be a 'kill-joy,'
people should enjoy their music but try to limit their exposure by
reducing the volume and/or limiting the time. Be aware of your
hearing health and just remember that if you lose it, it won't come
For more about
hearing health, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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