Mp3 Players and Hearing Loss

nrg1377-f4Chances are good you own an mp3 player, the most popular of which is the iPod.  And you’ve probably also heard that listening to the device with earbuds inserted can compromise hearing (tell that to any mom who’s been trying to gain the attention of her teenager!).  But now a study in the current issue of Archives of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery takes a more rigorous view of the matter in Short-term Auditory Effects of Listening to an MP3 Player.

21 people agreed to listen to pop rock music in this study, at different sound levels using two different types of ear apparatus: ear buds or headphones.  Measurements of their hearing acuity were made before and after they listened to music.  Hearing assessments included those requiring the person being tested to respond whether or not they heard a tone, and a more objective measure assessing how well their hair cells responded.

Hair cells are very finely tuned transducers of sound waves from the environment into what we can actually hear, found in the ear.  Lots of previous research has established that over time, we lose hair cells, especially after exposure to loud noises, and once damaged, they decline to regenerate.

Researchers found that after listening to one hour of pop rock music there was significant, although temporary, reduction in hearing acuity.  As might be expected there was a dose response: the louder the music the more pronounced the deficit.  As Rick points out in the podcast, compromise occurred irrespective of which type of ear device was used, and was seen even at the lower levels of volume tested.

Yikes!  What isn’t know from this study is whether these temporary reductions in hearing acuity translate into long term problems, whether such compromise in older people is more damaging than in teenagers, or whether males and females are variably affected.  Clearly, though, there’s reason for concern, since other models of chronic loud noise exposure do demonstrate compromised hearing as an outcome.  For now, the most prudent course seems to be listening to these devices, which now include smart phones, at the lowest possible setting for as short a duration as possible, and stay tuned as more research weighs in on the subject.

Other topics this week include three from the Lancet on two older diabetes medications using new methods of delivery, and one brand new medication, and from JAMA, a lack of benefit seen in preventing a second heart attack by lowering homocysteine levels using B vitamins, so save your money.  Until next week, y’all live well.

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