Tiny Speakers Can Cause Big Problems

Beware the Noise from That Nano: MP3 players and other personal listening devices – such as that iPod nano on your tween’s holiday wish list – can pose a real danger to hearing, health experts warn.

Barbara McLay, who oversees a hearing conservation program at the University of Missouri at Columbia, warns that direct delivery of music into ears, if the music is too loud or listened to for too long, can cause permanent hearing loss.

Luckily, it isn’t tough to tell if your child’s volume level is too high. “The child should be able to carry on a conversation while listening to their music,” McLay explains. “If others have to raise their voices to be understood by the child, the music is too loud.” Likewise, if your child raises his voice when speaking to you, or if you can hear what your child is listening to despite the fact that he’s using headphones, the music is too loud.

If your child keeps the volume low enough to allow for normal conversation, McLay says she can listen as long as she likes without hearing risk. In fact, most people can be safely exposed to a sound level of 90 decibels (dB) – about the noise level generated by a hair dryer – for up to eight hours per day with little risk. But with each 5-dB increase in sound level, safe exposure time is cut in half. This means a level of 95 dB is only safe for about four hours, and when you reach 100 dB, the safe level is just two hours. Music at rock concert levels, which reach 115 dB or higher, can damage hearing after just 15 minutes, McLay says.

MP3 players, according to experts, can easily exceed 100 dB. Because digital technology means that the volume can be raised without distortion, and because those ear buds that accompany MP3 players are so comfy, kids are much more likely to listen to music that’s too loud for too long. Once again, the message that most kids need to hear is: Turn it down.