Skip to content

Children's Health

Font Size

The MP3 Generation: At Risk for Hearing Loss?

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

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.

Kids With Old Ears

An article in the journal Pediatrics estimated that 12.5% of children aged 6 to 19 -- about 5.2 million -- have noise-induced hearing loss.

"Our own research shows that 16% of 6- to 19-year-olds have early signs of hearing loss at the range most readily damaged by loud sounds," says William Martin, PhD, of the Oregon Health and Science University Tinnitus Clinic in Portland.

Because adolescents are so resistant to warnings about loud music, Martin is trying to raise awareness among younger children. He is co-director of the Dangerous Decibels Project, which, in conjunction with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, has developed a program designed to train children, parents, and teachers about the threat of noise-induced hearing loss. It stresses the three most practical ways to deal with loud noise: turn it down, walk away, or protect your ears.

But education merely raises awareness of the problem. As with the epidemic of obesity among the young, hearing loss will end only when young people themselves recognize the dangers and change their behavior.

"People have to use personal stereo systems wisely or they will rapidly accelerate the aging of their ears," says Martin. "You can't toughen your ears by listening. Some people think you can. But if it's loud enough for long enough, you're going to cause permanent damage to your hearing."

Reviewed on August 25, 2005

Today on WebMD

child with red rash on cheeks
What’s that rash?
plate of fruit and veggies
How healthy is your child’s diet?
smiling baby
Treating diarrhea, fever and more.
Middle school band practice
Understanding your child’s changing body.

worried kid
boy on father's shoulder
Child with red rash on cheeks
girl thinking

Loaded with tips to help you avoid food allergy triggers.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Child with adhd
rl with friends
Syringes and graph illustration