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Can iPhones and MP3 players damage hearing?


A few years ago, I wrote a Q&A column in a local community magazine. Because several of the questions I received are still relevant today, I’m going to be repeating them from time to time in this blog. 

Q:  My son listens to music on his iPhone 2-3 hours each day. Is this damaging his hearing?

A:  Your son is most likely causing permanent damage to his hearing. Unfortunately, he’s not alone. Most families have an iPhone, iPod, or MP3 player, which they use on a daily basis.

When individuals listen to music in noisy situations, they often turn up the volume, causing even more damage to their hearing. Listening for hours at a time and using earbuds at a high volume contribute to hearing loss.

Signs of damage include muffled sounds or ringing in the ear after listening and a decreased ability to hear women’s voices. Female voices are higher-pitched, and often a person with hearing loss will complain that their mother, wife, or sister mumbles or doesn’t talk loud enough.

These complaints are often the first sign that a hearing loss exists. Hearing specialists and speech-language pathologists predict future generations will experience significant hearing loss due to the current proliferation of personal headsets.

Fortunately, the need for hearing aids can usually be avoided if parents limit the volume and length of time children use personal headsets. Provide some respite from all the noise, and allow ears time to recover by limiting listening time and turning down the volume.

Q:  How can I limit my child’s use of his iPod Touch?

A:  Three easy ways to limit the amount of time your child spends listening to his or her iPod Touch or other similar device are:

  • Talk to your kids about the limits you’ll be giving them.
  • Set rules and limits, then follow through. Be prepared to deal with consequences, if necessary.
  • Physically separate your children from the device(s) by getting them involved with activities like sports and other “non-digital” activities.

For more details on limiting the use of these devices, visit Berna Erol’s article on this topic at Digital Trends’ website.

Q:  How do you know when the music is too loud?

A:  A good rule of thumb is: If you can hear the music when your child has the earbuds in his ears, the music is too loud. We insist that our children apply sunscreen to avoid skin cancer. In the same way, we need to take preventative measures so that our children don’t suffer permanent damage from years of listening to loud music.

The Better Hearing Institute (BHI) says that correcting hearing should be as commonplace as vision correction. If there’s a problem, get tested.

Q:  Are there other ways I can help protect my child’s hearing?

A:  The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) has a website filled with tips on how to help fight the effects of “noise pollution” on your child’s ears. The “For Parents” page on It’s a Noisy Planet: Protect Their Hearing is a good place to start.