Health Watch by Sherry Mullenix

The North Jefferson News

Physicians and hearing experts are concerned that the prevalence of digital music players may leave a whole generation with future hearing problems.

There is a condition that has been named “iPod Ear” to identify this problem. The baby boomers encountered some hearing damage because of the loud rock music of that era, but the next generation is poised to have a much worse future problem. Physicians say they are seeing in younger and younger patients the signs of noise-induced hearing loss that previously was only emerging in the middle age population.

Today’s devices, which pump the music through headphones directly into the ear canal, enable the user to overcome the rumble of the subway, the noise of traffic or even the roar and rumble of an airplane engine without the drawing of angry shouts from those around them to “turn it down.”

Since hearing damage caused by high volumes is determined by its duration, the continuous listening to an MP3 player, even at a seemingly reasonable level, can damage the delicate hair cells in the inner ear that transmit the sound waves to the brain.

Researchers from Children’s Hospital in Boston have stated that individuals exposed to 85 decibels for eight hours tend to develop hearing loss. Of the products they studied, the devices produced a sound level considerably higher than that.

There are two ways that noise exposure leads to hearing damage. Brief exposure to extremely loud sounds like gunfire, can cause permanent damage. But consistent exposure to even moderate-level loud sounds wears out the hair cells in the inner ear, which are responsible for acute hearing abilities. When these cells are damaged by noise exposure – like loud concerts – they typically recover after a couple of days of rest. With repeated exposure to loud sounds, these hair cells’ ability to recover weakens. Eventually the hair cells die, leading to permanent hearing loss.

Dealing with denial

The simple fact is that young people like their music loud and seldom believe that hearing loss is a serious danger. A recent article in the Journal of Pediatrics estimates that 12.5 percent of children aged 6-19 or about 15.2 million already have noise-induced hearing loss.

In another recent study in Pediatrics it was reported that of the nearly 10,000 people who responded to an MTV survey only 8 percent considered hearing loss a problem.

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

People who use personal stereos and MP3 players unwisely will accelerate the aging of their ears. That is a fact.

If it’s loud enough for long enough, you will damage your hearing. There is no way around it.

Sherry Mullenix (J.D., R.N.) co-owns The Pharmacy in Mount Olive with her husband, Steve Mullenix (R.Ph). They can be reached at 631-1201.

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