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Children's Health

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The MP3 Generation: At Risk for Hearing Loss?

Experts discuss the possible risk to hearing from listening to MP3s for long periods of time.

Music Dependency

"When I ask kids why they're not worried about hearing loss, they say they have faith that medical technology will find a way to restore their hearing," Deanna Meinke, chairwoman of the National Hearing Conservation Association's Task Force on Children and Hearing, tells WebMD.

Mary Florentine, an audiologist at Northeastern University, suspects that some young people actually have what she calls a loud music dependency disorder (LMDD).

"I asked people why they continued to expose themselves to loud music even though they knew it was harming their hearing, and they said they couldn't stop listening," says Florentine. "They said, 'When I stop listening I get sad and depressed, and then I go back to it because I can't take it after a while. I start listening again at moderate levels, but it doesn't do anything for me, so I start to listen at high levels.'"

In a study, Florentine and colleagues adapted a test normally used to identify alcohol dependency. For example, the question, "Do you feel you are a normal drinker?" became, "Do you feel you listen at normal levels?" Eight of the 90 participants who answered the 32 questions had scores in the same range as substance abusers.

Hearing Loss Goes Unnoticed

Denying the danger of noise-induced hearing loss would not be so easy if loud music made the ears bleed, but the early symptoms tend to come on gradually.

"People may notice that voices sound muffled, and that they have a reduced ability to follow a conversation in a noisy environment such as a restaurant or a party," Andy Vermiglio, CCC-A, FAAA, a research audiologist at the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles, tells WebMD.

"They might hear ringing in their ears. In its worst form, the ringing can get so loud that it interferes with sleep."

While a routine hearing test administered by a doctor can reveal mild hearing loss, the problem may become advanced before people realize they're having serious difficulty hearing.

Hearing loss, which becomes more common with age, is creeping farther down the age spectrum.

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