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College of Human Ecology

K-State Audiologist Says Continuous Loud Music Can Affect Hearing

Thursday, March 16, 2006

MANHATTAN -- A Kansas State University audiologist said hearing loss in younger people could become more common because of the growing popularity of IPODs and MP3 players.

The No. 1 cause of hearing loss is the aging process, which doesn't usually occur until the age of 60. The No. 2 cause is noise exposure, said Robert Garcia, audiologist for the K-State speech and hearing center. In the past, most noise exposure was due to hunting or working around noisy equipment, he said.

"What concerns me is that someone young tells me, 'I can listen to my music at loud levels and don't have hearing loss,'" Garcia said. "It doesn't happen overnight but is a long gradual process. It chips away at the ability to hear and once it's gone, it's gone. There's no way to get it back.

"Anything that changes gradually doesn't catch our attention," he said. "The reason this is a significant issue is we listen to music we enjoy -- and loudly. We're talking about a population of young people who don't think about their health at this point in their life. When they're older, they'll say, 'I wish I would have done that differently.' They think they're invincible when young."

Hair cells in the inner ear are especially sensitive to sound. When a sound is loud, the hair cells become permanently damaged, Garcia said. Listening to loud music can cause permanent hearing loss for those who listen for long periods of time.

He said a good rule of thumb is if you're listening to music with headphones on and cannot hear the person talking next to you or if your neighbor can hear your music, you could be damaging your hearing.

Garcia said most people don't think about how loud their music is because they listen to it for enjoyment and relaxation.

"The majority of people probably listen at an excessive level because they enjoy music and want to turn the song up and listen to it loud," he said. "Since we enjoy it, it's our tendency to play it loud and listen to it for extended periods of time. That combination puts listeners at risk for hearing loss."

This article was posted on Thursday, March 16, 2006, and is filed under College News, Family Studies & Human Services.