Study finds that excessive headphone use can make young adults hear like their elders

David Kirkwood
July 22, 2013

NEW YORK—There have been many warnings and anecdotal reports recently about the damage that listening to headphones can inflict on the human auditory system. Now, there are some hard data from America’s largest city showing that the warnings are justified.

According to Hearing Problems and Headphone Use in New York City, a document released July 11 by the New York City Health Department, nearly 25% of adults under age 45 who frequently listen to headphones turned up high report having hearing problems.

pr024-13-imageDrawing on a 2011 New York City Community Health Survey, the publication reveals that New Yorkers who reported heavy headphone use were more than twice as likely to have hearing problems as were those who reported light-to-moderate use or no use of headphones. The incidence of hearing loss among heavy users under age 44 was about as high that of people over age 44, who typically have a higher rate of hearing problems than younger adults.

In releasing the report, Thomas Farley, MD, the city’s health commissioner, stated, “Though hearing loss is preventable, more and more people are having trouble hearing. With more people regularly using headphones, the message is loud and clear: New Yorkers need to turn down the volume to protect their ears.”

More than one-third of the younger adults who reported listening to music with headphones said they listened every day. Of the daily users, 16% said they listened at more than half the maximum volume for 4 or more hours. Prolonged exposure to loud sounds can cause irreversible damage to the inner ear, resulting in tinnitus, hearing loss, or both, Farley noted.

The commissioner advised headphone users to turn down the volume, limit listening time, take regular breaks, and never listen at maximum volume.

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