Is listening to my MP3 player damaging my hearing?
How widespread is hearing loss among MP3 users?
Why is it harmful to my hearing?
How does loud music damage my hearing?
Is the greatest danger to hearing loss posed by MP3 players?
How can I protect my hearing?
How do you know when it's too loud? 
What are the signs that my hearing is being affected?
Is the damage limited to listening to music?
Are there headphones that could reduce the damage?
Could the type of music I listen to cause more damage?
What are musician's earplugs?
What are the benefits of musician's earplugs?
Who would benefit from wearing musician's earplugs?

Is listening to my MP3 player damaging my hearing?

Yes, it could be causing permanent damage if you listen to it too loudly and for long periods. Recent research confirmed that more than half of all MP3 users in Ireland are damaging their hearing.

The survey commissioned by Hidden Hearing found that 51% of people listen to their MP3 players for more than two hours a day, at dangerously high levels, or levels over 89 decibels.

One in five people listen to music at levels of 100 decibels or more, the equivalent of hearing a pneumatic drill ten feet away. Listening to music at this level can cause hearing damage after just half an hour.

How widespread is hearing loss among MP3 users?

A recent European Commission study that found that one in ten 30-year-olds will be wearing a hearing device by 2020 as a result of listening to music too loudly.

Why is it harmful to my hearing?

The combination of three different factors could result in hearing impairment after listening to loud music or MP3 players:
The duration of time listening
Closeness to the source of the sound
How loud the music is played
No matter how loud the music is turned up when you listen to it, the basic rule is that the longer you listen, the more you stress the muscles in the inner ear. Fatigue of the ear may result in a temporary threshold shift, limiting the amount of quiet sounds that you can hear.

How does loud music damage my hearing?

People with good hearing have tiny hair cells that line the inner ear and these transmit signals to the brain, which are interpreted as sound. Listening to loud music can flatten these hairs, and although they normally spring back into place, noise damage over a long period can cause them to snap. 
The problem - and one that many people don't realise - is that these hairs do not re-grow and so any damage is permanent. 
The damage isn't instantaneous. It can take many months or even years for the effect to become apparent, but listening to loud music over a long time will gradually weaken the structures in the ear, and this can cause conditions such as ringing (tinnitus) or muffled hearing.

Is the greatest danger to hearing loss posed by MP3 players?

MP3 players are more likely to cause hearing loss than older portable music devices. They are far more common now than portable devices ever were in the past. Also, they provide high-quality sound at very high volumes, with long battery life so users can listen longer than ever before. In addition, many younger children now have their own MP3 players, which they often use without parental supervision and may be inflicting long-term hearing loss on themselves without having any awareness of the risks.

How can I protect my hearing?

Take regular breaks from your headphones to give your ears a rest; the risk of damage increases with length of exposure.
Turn down the volume a notch - even a small reduction in volume can make a big difference to the risk of damage to your hearing. 
Avoid using the volume to drown out background noise, for example the sound of the train or traffic (find out about additions to in-ear headphones that help with this problem). 
If your MP3 player has a 'smart volume' feature, use it so you have control of the volume you are listening at.
A general rule thumb is to only listen to music at 60% volume and for no more that 60 minutes in one sitting. 
Remember - if you have ringing in your ears or dull hearing after listening to your MP3 or personal stereo, it is a serious warning that the music was loud enough to damage your hearing.

How do you know when it's too loud?

The simplest rule is that if others can hear music from your headphones, it's probably too loud.

What are the signs that my hearing is being affected?

There are certain signs to look out for when your hearing is being affected:
Any ringing or buzzing you can hear when you stop listening to your MP3. 
A temporary threshold shift or short-term hearing loss that you experience when you turn off your player in a quiet environment and the sound is muffled.

Is the damage limited to listening to music?

Anything you listen to can affect your hearing health, not just music. In fact you should be careful with audio books and podcasts as well as your music.

Are there headphones that could reduce the damage?

Yes, high quality earphones are a good investment because they will block more of the background noise, allowing the user to reduce the volume and still hear the music comfortably.
There are three types of headphone that can help reduce the damage:
The old fashioned ones that sit right over the ear - look out for ones with decent cushioning.
The ones with electronic limiters that actively cancel out noise.
The 'bud' type earphones that have a custom sleeve and sit right in the ear, sealing against outside noise.

Could the type of music I listen to cause more damage?

Surprisingly, music that people think is going to be most dangerous isn't necessarily the worst. In fact, classical can be as damaging as heavy metal or rock. But basically one type of music is no safer or more dangerous than any other - it's simply the volume and the duration of time you listen to it.

What are musician's earplugs?

Musicians' earplugs are a custom product, made individually for each user. They are made from an impression of the ear canal taken by an audiologist or other hearing health professionals.

What are the benefits of musicians' earplugs?

Musicians' earplugs are designed to replicate the natural response of the open ear. Sound heard with these earplugs has the same quality as the original, only quieter. The result is that speech and music are clear - you still hear the blend clearly, feel the bass, and distinguish each tone - but your hearing is protected against the damage of listening to loud music.

Who would benefit from wearing musicians' earplugs?

There are two types of people who could benefit from musicians' earplugs. The first group are those exposed to 90-120 dB sound levels for various time periods and who need to hear accurately. This group includes musicians, their sound crews, recording engineers, nightclub employees, and other music industry professionals. The second group consists of people outside the music industry, including loud-music listeners, persons with tinnitus or hyperacusis, spectators at sporting events, some construction workers, motorcycle drivers, and regular airline or auto travellers. These people often have high-frequency hearing loss but refuse to wear conventional hearing protection because they need to hear more clearly.