What the Yuck: Am I going deaf?
February 25th, 2011
04:52 PM ET

What the Yuck: Am I going deaf?

Too embarrassed to ask your doctor about sex, body quirks, or the latest celeb health fad? In a regular feature and a new book, "What the Yuck?!," Health magazine medical editor Dr. Roshini Raj tackles your most personal and provocative questions. Send 'em to Dr. Raj at whattheyuck@health.com.

Q: I find I'm listening to my iPod at higher volumes lately - does that mean I'm going deaf?

It could. Audiologists and hearing experts have been sounding the alarm over hearing loss associated with MP3 players for a few years now. Twenty-six million adults have high-frequency hearing loss caused by exposure to loud noises - aka noise-induced hearing loss.

The risk of hearing loss from an iPod depends on how loud you're cranking it. Most iPods have a maximum decibel level (decibels are how we measure sound) of 100, but a few independent studies have found they can go as high as 120.

So what does that mean? Well, the sound of an ambulance siren is about 120 decibels. Would you listen to that for several hours every day of the week? (The average American who has an iPod listens to her iPod two hours every day.) Here's another way to think about it: By law, employees exposed to on-the-job noise above 115 decibels for longer than 15 minutes must have sound-protection equipment.

You might be saying to yourself, "Well, I only listen to it halfway up most of the time." That's good; it's possible you're not getting yours high enough to cause any damage (sounds below 75 decibels don't usually harm hearing). But hearing loss can be the result of a one-time exposure to an intense sound, and repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. The louder the noise, the shorter time period before NIHL begins.

Have you ever turned your iPod up to rock out to your favorite Nirvana song? Or pumped up the volume to drown out background street noises? You may have permanently damaged your hearing.

To prevent further harm, always use the middle setting or lower on your iPod's volume control. As a rule of thumb, if you are using earphones and someone next to you can hear your music (or worse - identify the song!), it's too loud.

Copyright Health Magazine 2011

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. mywinejourneys

    My MP3 player has a setting that can "lock" the maximum volume so that you can't take it into dangerously loud levels. I would recommend this setting, since it disables your ability to really turn the music up too loud. As for the hearing loss, I was having similar problems – and then subsequently had two huge balls of wax removed from my ears by a doctor. It's definitely worth getting checked out – my hearing was amazing after the wax was removed!

    February 25, 2011 at 20:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • muncher

      you must have made them for snacks.lol!

      February 27, 2011 at 03:16 | Report abuse |
  2. Saifullah786

    I myself have been wondering about this for a while. I feel like I listen to my music too loudly.
    I don't think my ipod has a setting like that.

    Well, if I do go deaf, it's a good thing I know ASL!

    February 26, 2011 at 16:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Steve

    Any iPod built since early 2006 has the volume limiter feature,

    February 26, 2011 at 21:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. cabo wabo

    jeeehz can anyone figure out if their ipod is too loud? if you cant determine how to use it, you should maybe put i away.

    February 27, 2011 at 09:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Michelle

    People need to be aware that there are short-term exposure limits on noise levels as defined by OSHA, and long-term limits. You can listen to a certain noise limit for 15 minutes each day without damage, but if you listened to it for 8 hours each day, you'd have measurable damage. Most people listen to their iPods for more than 15 minutes per day.

    And seriously, anyone who is dumb enough to keep cranking up their MP3 players, just like brat teenagers who crank up the music in their cars too loud, deserve what they get. I'm sure your parents warned you not to do it, and the general advice on noise levels is available to anyone. A little common sense will go a long way. Rock musicians wear earplugs. Consider that.

    February 27, 2011 at 11:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Vera

    Take a look at Dr. Kathleen Ruddy's message on the breast cancer vaccine: http://www.breasthealthandhealing.com/socialnetworking/messages/20110101.html

    February 27, 2011 at 22:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. kate

    well maybe its because you are a dumb and dont know how to set it at the right volume.

    February 28, 2011 at 14:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. kate

    and also you can go suck a duck, 🙂 yes i said duck

    February 28, 2011 at 14:50 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.