Apple’s new EarPods were recently released. Listening to music at full volume through earphones can damage a person’s hearing.
Plant yourself in the central quad of any college campus, and you are likely to see a common trend: earphones fixed in students’ ears as they walk from one class to the next. With the rise of smartphones that double as MP3 players, plugging into a personal music player has become an automatic gesture for many students.
The University of Leicester recently published a study identifying how listening to loud music can damage a person’s hearing, according to USA TODAY. Noises that exceed 110 decibels (dB) can strip away myelin sheath from the nerve cells, which hinders the delivery of electrical signals from the ears to the brain.
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) has found that over a minute of exposure to 110 dB sound, 15 minutes at 100 dB or prolonged exposure at or above 85 dB can lead to permanent hearing loss, as reported by USA TODAY.
In spite of these risks, some personal listening devices hit decibel levels as high as 120 dB.
Rob Rossi, a senior finance and marketing major in the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, finds himself listening to music through his iPhone and iPod on a regular basis.
“I listen to music through my earphones on average two to three times a day, for between one and two hours total. I listen when I’m walking by myself from my dorm room to class or a meeting, when I go to the gym and occasionally when I do homework,” Rossi said.
For reasons unrelated to concern for his own hearing, Rossi remains mindful of his volume levels when using his earphones in public.
“I try to keep the music at a reasonable volume — more out of politeness to the people around me than for my own safety,” he said. “Except when I go to the gym. I blast that Rick Ross [rap music] at full volume.”
Rossi is not alone in his tendency to maximize the volume in certain contexts. In 2010, about one-third of college students reported occasionally turning their portable listening devices up to full volume, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Additionally, nearly 60% of students at a major college in New York City were discovered to be using their headphones at volumes greater than 85 dB.
For Elisabeth Russell, a speech-language pathology graduate student at Boston University, taking classes on hearing-related issues has opened her eyes — along with her ears — to the dangers of overexposure to loud noises.
“Since starting the coursework, I’ve been making an effort not to listen to my iPod with the volume turned up,” she said. “I’m especially conscious of this while riding the T [Boston’s subway system] and while working out. If I’m in a noisy environment and can’t hear my music, I will sometimes just turn it off.”
Apple’s recent unveiling of EarPods, a more dynamic earphone that is supposed to fit more comfortably in listeners’ ears, signals that the end is certainly not in sight for the use of personal listening devices. Staying conscious of volume levels can help to decrease the risk of hearing loss associated with using earphones or headphones, Russell said.
“Set the volume on your iPod while you are in a quiet environment and do not turn it up higher when you are in a louder environment. Loud music does not cancel out loud background noise,” she said. “Instead, your ears are being subjected to the high noise levels in your environment and your loud music.”