Personal Listening Devices: Hip or Harmful?

August 29, 2011 Swedish Bargaining Team


If your child is one of the 304 million people who currently utilize an iPod, they could potentially be damaging their hearing. Research in recent years has demonstrated the startling trend that noise-induced hearing loss is on the rise, especially among children and teens.

Today, one in eight children aged 6-19 years has some degree of noise-induced hearing loss, which is twice the rate as seen in 1971. But noise isn’t a new phenomenon for kids. Historically, children have worked on farms, cut down trees, or fired guns without hearing protection. However, personal listening devices, like the iPod, are one of the most significant changes in our culture in the past 15-20 years, and they are here to stay.

Walk around the local park, ballfield, or school, and you will see numerous children and adults connected to earbuds. The extremely popular iPod has the capacity to produce an output of as much as 115 decibels at maximum volume, which is about as loud as a jet airplane taking off. At that level, it takes less than a few minutes to cause permanent damage. Of course, not everybody listens to his or her personal device at that volume. But in many instances the volume is turned up to combat background noise, and those earbuds placed directly into the ear can boost the volume as much as 6 to 9 decibels.

The damage that noise exposure causes is cumulative, permanent, and totally preventable.

So what can we do?


1. Know the facts. Two variables that greatly influence the extent of noise-induced hearing loss are:

  • Volume level: Sounds louder than 80-85 decibels (that of a vacuum cleaner, or curbside on a busy road) are potentially dangerous, and sounds above 90-95 decibels (that of an electric drill or motorcycle) are considered dangerous, especially for extended periods of time.
  • Length of time exposed: With extended battery life and storage for hundreds of songs, listeners can hook themselves up to their iPod and listen to music for hours at a time. At moderate volume levels, this length of time will likely not cause any damage. But at 100-105 decibels (greater than 75-80% of maximum volume of device), hearing damage can occur in as little as 8 minutes.

2. Protect your child’s hearing:

  • Make sure he or she sets the volume at no more than 50-70% of the maximum
  • Limit how long he or she is plugged in. The longer they want to listen, the lower the volume needs to be. With the volume set at or below 50% of maximum, they should be able to listen for as long as they like without causing hearing damage.

3. Get involved:

  • Several groups have developed programs for prevention through education of children and their families on the dangers of noise exposure. A few of them are listed below. Check out their links for more information:
  1. Listen to Your Buds by American Speech-Hearing-Language Association
  2. Dangerous Decibels by Oregon Health & Science Foundation:
  3. Sound Sense by The Hearing Foundation of Canada:


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