Don't Stop the Music... Just Turn It Down

Findings from a new study lend credence to what parents have been saying for years: playing music too loud may indeed cause hearing damage later in life.

It’s common for school-aged children to pop on a pair of headphones to listen to music, but can prolonged use of headphones eventually cause hearing damage?

Findings from a new study published in Pediatrics suggest that the lyrics found in rap and pop music aren’t the most damaging thing, and that in fact, chronic exposure to loud noise may gradually result in irreversible hearing loss later in life.

For their research, Christopher Hartnick, MD, of Harvard Medical School, and colleagues examined the results of hearing tests of 4,310 adolescents ages 12 to 19 taken as part of National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. The investigators measured noise-induced threshold shifts (NITSs), high-frequency hearing loss (HFHL), and low-frequency hearing loss (LFHL).

The investigators found that exposure to loud noise or music through headphones increased from 19.8% in the 1988-1994 time period to 34.8% in 2005-2006. Overall rates of hearing loss did not change significantly between the two time periods, except for one type of hearing loss among adolescent females. In 1988-1994, 11.6% of teen girls had noise-induced threshold shift, a type of hearing loss caused by exposure to loud noise. In 2005-2006, the rate had increased to 16.7%.

These findings suggest that increased exposure to recreational noise and minimal use of hearing-protection devices might have increased female teenagers’ prevalence of noise-induced threshold shift to a level previously seen only for boys, according to Hartnick and colleagues.

However, the study results don’t indicate this hearing loss is due to use of headphones. Rather, the study authors conclude the increased rate of hearing loss in females may be due to other factors not reflected in the questionnaire, such as amplified music at concerts and clubs. The authors conclude more should be done to educate both teenagers and parents about the dangers of excessive noise.

Although chronic exposure to loud noise may not cause hearing loss in the short term, it can gradually result in irreversible hearing loss later in life, they found.

To access the study, click here.

For more:

  • Noise-induced Hearing Loss in Children: A 'Less than Silent' Environmental Danger (Pediatrics & Child Health)
  • Adolescents and MP3 Players: Too Many Risks, Too Few Precautions (Pediatrics)
  • Estimating Adolescent Risk for Hearing Loss Based on Data from a Large School-based Survey (American Journal of Public Health)