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Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

Posted October 29, 2008 12:00 AM by Sharkles

Just this morning, I was thinking about how much I love my shiny, new 120-GB iPod. I would almost go so far to say that it's my favorite personal technology - ever. On average, I'd say that I listen to my iPod 90% of the workday. The problem with the iPod, however, is that I listen to it the same way I've listened to music throughout my entire life: loud. Even as a young twenty-something, I have already felt as though my hearing has declined from years of personal music-players.

Now, studies presented from the European Union (EU) confirm that such devices pose a threat of permanent hearing loss. In their report, specialists on the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks say that people who listen to music players on a high-volume for more than five hours a week are exposing themselves to hearing problems after five years. The study also says that the noise produced by personal music players can be louder than working in the noisiest of workplaces.

Previous studies from the Royal National Institute for Deaf People in Britain have also warned that more than two-thirds of young people (dubbed "the MP3-generation") who use MP3 players regularly face premature hearing damage.

Taking a Bite Out of Apple
In 2006, a lawsuit was filed against Apple which claimed that the company failed to adequately address users' hearing-loss. One of the claims against Apple is that the iPod can be as loud as 115 decibels (dB); this is alarming when considering that 89 dB is considered the maximum volume for safe listening. Apple claims that it does address the potential problems in the iPod manual (I looked and it does!).

Today's personal music players aren't the only culprit, as many new cell phones have music-playing capabilities. All of these devices may cause hearing loss because since they often use the ear-bud style of headphones, which are popular and come free with any iPod/music player. This type of headphone is risky because it is inserted in the ear, thus providing greater sound exposure.

Consumer Affairs Recommendations
The European Consumer Affairs Commissioner, Meglena Kuneva, says that a conference is being planned for 2009 in Brussels. This conference will discuss and evaluate findings with national governments, industry representatives, and consumers.

Precautionary measures will also be discussed. Some proposed suggestions have been to limit listening time to an hour a day, and to set the volume to no more than 60% of the maximum sound with over-the-ear headphones - and even less with ear-buds. These measures make it a personal choice for the users; however, another idea is to restrict the maximum sound output to 90 dB.

As I mentioned earlier, I listen to my iPod most of each workday – so, approximately 40 hours a week. This may contradict some reports, but I feel that music is a big part of what gets me through the day. Boring tasks seem easier, and I feel as though I concentrate better. I also feel that the risks of listening to loud music are a matter of common sense, yet people choose not to consider the consequences. I think it would be hard to get people to change their listening habits – especially since iPods and MP3 players are everywhere and 1-hour a day is a ridiculously short amount of time to listen to music.

What do you think?

  • How much time do you listen to personal music players?
  • Do you feel as though personal music players have affected your hearing?
  • Are people responsible for how they choose to listen to music?
  • Should governments be able to limit the sound range?


Resources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/13/technology/13noise.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&adxnnlx=1224876807-ISZkUAe7zCuPxCMvVR3wcw

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1077170/iPod-users-forced-turn-volume-new-EU-directive.html

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#1

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/29/2008 8:37 AM

When I first started working in an environment where everyone wore headphones and listened to music, I did too. After a few years I grew tired of it and even noticed I got frequent headaches from the constant noise "in" my head. I'm usually a pretty low-volume listener since I like to be aware of my surroundings, so I'm hopeful that it hasn't affected my hearing too much.

People are definitely responsible for themselves, however, I think a lot of it comes from a habit formed at a young age. Part of it is defiance to parents' demands to turn music down - and then as hearing declines, it becomes a necessity to have it at a volume where your neighbor knows which song you're listening to through your headphones.

If the government does limit sound range, it should not compromise sound quality or volume when an mp3 player is hooked up to conventional speakers.

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#10
In reply to #1

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/29/2008 11:32 PM

I;ve spent well over 30 years listening to music throough ehadphones etc. and the loudest was the early 1980s headphone radios.They were the next best thing to sticking your head in the big old W bin bass speakers. My hearing is still Ok, though it took about 10 yrs for the ringing to stop (which made hearing tests really difficult).

What the professors forget to tell you is your ears actually close down when the noise gets too much, blocking out much of the sound. You will find that listening at no 7 is just as good as 10 due to this. And when you really want to go to 11, well you have 3 more numbers to go, all the way to um... 13... untill of course your hearing shuts down to 7...

Mind you hearing aids are reallly expensive! so invest heavily in hearing research for your old age!!

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#11
In reply to #10

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/30/2008 4:34 AM

By the same mechanism, if you turn it down, the ear adjusts and it does sound nearly as loud. You may be the exception or it may just have not caught up with you yet. The preponderance of evidence leaves little doubt that there is a causal relationship between sound pressure levels and hearing loss. Hence, it suggests that one would be wise to ignore your contentions as they appear to be based only on a sample of one.

We have measured the output of a typical iPod at 115dB. NIOSH lists the daily safe exposure time limit at this level at 28 seconds. So you have to ask yourself, am I one of the magical exceptions? Well loud music listener, feeling lucky??? Then by all means crank it up. But deaf is a lonely existence, just ask someone who is.

Of course if you are married to a nagging mate, it could also be a good thing.

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#12
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Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/30/2008 4:47 AM

Of course if you are married to a nagging mate, it could also be a good thing.

now you mentioned it, maybe earplugs aren't such a bad idea

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#2

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/29/2008 1:09 PM

Yes, Sharkles, you are already losing your hearing if you have the volume to high on your iPod earbuds. The notion of hearing loss via music was raised way back when big, clunky headphones were all the rage in the 60's and I'll bet it wasn't a new idea then, either.

My father-in-law's hearing was damaged during WW II when he was an Army Air Force navigator and then flew on prop-jets internationally in his professional work. If you know anyone who has worked in a mill (paper, steel, textile) environment, they most assuredly have hearing loss. Look carefully at the ears of popular musicians when they perform and you will see that they are protecting their hearing (and listening to their own work at a volume they can appreciate) with custom earbuds; based upon hearing loss of aging rockers, they have learned to protect themselves from the ear-shattering works they have created for you! It's not just a part of normal aging.

I had a pre-employment physical where I had my hearing tested and while my hearing seemed fine to me, the hearing specialist said that I showed some symptoms at one end of the spectrum (high pitch sounds, I believe, but can't say for certain) and she wanted to know what had caused it. I hadn't worked in a manufacturing facility (yet), didn't race cars or similarly noisy sports/hobbies and that's when she said it was likely that I used headphone and that was the cause; seems to me that she was right on the mark.

While I still crank the XM radio in my car from time to time (great guitar work really does resonate with me) and I do believe that music (including loud music) has a place in our lives, it is still valuable for everyone to give their hearing some consideration. We have been told not to stare at the sun and, for the most part, we understand and follow such admonitions; best we heed such admonitions for our hearing, too. The changes are so subtle that they may seem imperceptible but time does fly and there's no going back to good hearing.

As I read your post, there are more controversial (to reflect your word back to you) matters that come to mind. Why are you doing work that is boring? Why do you feel the need to listen to music 90% of the day rather than, say, 10% of the day? Do you ever enjoy quietness for its own sake or revel in solitude? Maybe you are substituting music for the television that permeates our lives when we are not at work? And, is it possible that it's not so much the music you enjoy but the frenetic social buzz and adrenaline rush we've all come to need (or think we need) for our contemporary lives?

As other has shared with me, music is as much a communal activity (a means for us to share and connect with each other) as it is an individual activity (a means for self exploration and modulation of mood). It is all of that and more to me. I'm sure it is to you, too. But, music can still serve these wonderful, joyful purposes without bombarding us if we turn down the volume and really listen to what the composer/songwriter and singer/musician are trying to share with us. Once I did, it changed everything for me and opened whole new avenues to explore and embrace.

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#5
In reply to #2

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/29/2008 1:47 PM

Hi Walter Mitty, thanks for a great response. I am not listening to the iPod on the highest volume, just the mid-range. But I'm glad that you said that music, even loud music, has a place - because I think that some music really just sounds better on a higher volume.

Just to answer some of your questions to me... I work in a cubicle on a computer all day, which gets a little stale after from time to time. It's not that the work is necessarily boring, but there is always the occasional mindless task as there are in many jobs. Music allows me to enjoy those projects, while covering office noises like typing, other people's conversations, etc. I do enjoy silence, but in an office setting I find it hard to come by.

One thing I found especially interesting is the question you asked, And, is it possible that it's not so much the music you enjoy but the frenetic social buzz and adrenaline rush we've all come to need (or think we need) for our contemporary lives?

Yes, I agree with that notion. The buzz/adrenaline rush is something that I specifically look for from music sometimes, and I base my music selection around it. For example, for my morning drives into work I often listen to Deejay-type music in the car because it gets my blood circulating and lets me feel ready to work. Some people drink coffee all day to stay alert, I listen to music. It is what works for me, although I know plenty of other people who can't work/concentrate when listening to music at all.

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#7
In reply to #2

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/29/2008 2:05 PM

I know you. You didn't even notice that the light had changed. It's bad enough I know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall. Do you have any idea how long it takes to count them all?

To anyone who has no idea what I'm talking about, sorry about the gibberish, but in my defense, it wasn't my gibberish.

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#3

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/29/2008 1:23 PM

I'm sure everyone would rather listen to music over regular speakers but we don't have that luxury all the time. I don't use the inner ear buds, I can definitely see where those things would damage your ears.

A couple weeks ago I did hit play on my iPod and I blasted myself out not realizing the volume was set to max.

Sometimes at work headphones are very necessary. (Like when I can hear the person in the next office over clipping their nails. YUCK!)

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#4

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/29/2008 1:34 PM

I listen to my mp3 all the time at work, it drowns out the sound of boredom in my head. Oddly enough, the boredom can be pretty loud in the work place. I feel like I have my player low enough to where it can't hurt me in the short term. I think long term usage may create problems, such as the ability to willing tune out coworkers. Getting engrossed in music is easy to do when at work.

People are definitely responsible for their own desmise. If they want to listen to it loud, fine, but beware of the consequences. You will miss half of the conversation and 'what?' will be much more common. People these days aren't listening to symphonies loud either, they are listening to pulses of loud music. The change of intensity would be enough to make your ears pop constantly.

Government can't really limit the sound range. A <$5 circuit can amplify the circuit anyway (I did this in my class using an op-amp). It is an easy work around. So: No, government can't limit the sound range.

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#6

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/29/2008 1:56 PM

Don't worry, I've been using pod headphones (the kind that go in your ear) for 20 years now. I've always played music loud and aside from the occasional ringing in my ears I haven't noticed any hearing damage. Seriously, they've been around for 20 years, they just used to be attached to cassette players, then DVD players. Don't worry. If you're really concerned, just turn the volume down a little.

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#8

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/29/2008 10:42 PM

You are wise to be concerned, the threat is real. Hearing loss is gradual and due to the very large dynamic range of our hearing you don't know you have a loss until it is significant and too late.

I designed a product for gaging the output of your earbuds. It is called "Ear3" and is available for purchase online if you want to know for sure what is a safe level. Sadly, the product has not done well, as I predicted, since most people are in denial, especially younger users.

Here is the link to the website:

Ear3

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#24
In reply to #8

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/31/2008 2:41 PM

Sadly, the product has not done well, as I predicted, since most people are in denial, especially younger users.

They're not in denial they just don't want to hear it.

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#26
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Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/31/2008 9:34 PM

Youth rebellious? Never! .... I must have been a pain in the butt.

Brad

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#9

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/29/2008 10:55 PM

Don't use those earplugs all the sound energy goes in to your and ear slowly destroys those important hearing sensors. And another bad thing about those earplugs is that you cannot hear your surroundings very well, i use old style headphones so i can hear my surroundings and i never put my headphones too loud (even if i like the song).

There is not enough emphasis on the long term damage those earphone causes, my mobile phone has a volume limiter and i never turn it off.

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#13

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/30/2008 5:17 AM

Not many will probably like this post. Comming from a trained musician (cellist) who plays actively, as well as engineer, I sincerely hope that it will stimulate thought, rather than cause discomfort.

Actually, it matters what music you listen to: electric instruments do not produce the content rich spectra associated with non-electric instruments, instead they distribute energy to some rather unnatural frequencies, as far as the human ear is concerned. Hindemith, a known (long dead) music scholar performed systematic measurements that proved this point. If you amplify the energy going into those unnatural frequencies, what happens is that you become deaf fast: Recall that the damage induced by loud noise for the same DB level depends on frequency!

Electric music has appeared together with electric recordings, which made possible not only (ubnormally) loud playing, but also (abnormally) loud playback. The loud music appeals to the more animalistic (nothing wrong with that, actually) side of us, but sacrifices much of the expressiveness found in older music. No wonder it became the instant favourite of juveniles, who then grew up to be loyal fans of the new style. This phenomenon is self-sustaining. It is natural that not many people grow out of it: If you listen to loud music, you cannot be moved by soft music any more. As time goes on, the addiction usually needs even louder stimuli to feed. The same way that if you eat spicy food you cannot stomach plain cusine any more and just add more and more spice (this can be as bad to nutricion as loud music is to hearing).

Also, let's not forget that modern music is 'lifestyle music' (meant to accompany us every day), whereas old music was not (it was an occasional community affair).

The spicy food metaphor is also good for giving us the reason why modern electric music has been so commercialised, with new 'albums' pushed to the market each year. If todays works were as polished as classical symphonies, the output would be of limited quantity (bad for commercial consumption), but good for quality: If you write a quality work, you can bet you'll want people to hear the details and won't make it loud. I.e. Rachmaninoff (another long dead musician) used to say that every good piece of music only has one true climax, that everything else should point to: with regard to sound level, this meant only one true big crescento. As another poster said, the ear has to 'shut down' much of the loud noise to protect itself, so composers of 'old music' made a it point to let us enjoy the full spectrum. In fact, classically educated composers knew how to elicit the best out of every instrument without resorting to the cliche 'cookbook recipe' of loudness and fff. I always suspected that turning the volume up tends to hide any poor craftsmanship from the part of the composer, simply because we cannot hear the details (or the lack of them). Modern composers benefit from this, often writing junk that become hits. But, hey, fast food sells better! So, no matter how much we legislate, the music indistry will continue to try to 'educate' the new kids (the later adults) into eating its brand of spicy 'fast food'. Let's all blame iPod for the damage and forget the real cause.

So it matters what music you listen to. If you listen to orchestral works, chamber music, or even traditional folk music (without electric amplification) you will never find constant loudness, or risk deafness.

I listen to a lot of music, have a very nice stereo, am not afraid to turn the volume up, and get no complaints from my neighbours: its mostly classical music, tangos (dance with the wife) etc My ears are of course fine. The best thing is, because of the normal frequency content of this kind of music, the walls absorb most of it and no-one outside the house is forced to hear it.

Perhaps this offers a good rule of thumb: listening to music that is readilly absorbed by a normal wall is likely safe for your ears!

Cheers

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#14
In reply to #13

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/30/2008 7:53 AM

Exactly what type of engineer did you say you were?

I would have to suggest that whatever work that was done by your fellow Hindemith was done at a time when technology was somewhat limited. If by "unnatural" you simply mean to say that people's habits have increased the threat to hearing loss then I do not disagree.

However, your contention that symphony music poses no risk to the musician is not so certain as you seem to indicate. In fact, I am currently engaged in a research project that will make a definitive determination of the risk based on a musician's location in the orchestra. Earlier research that has been done on this topic has some serious flaws that will be corrected in this study.

Your ear doesn't differentiate between "natural" and "unnatural" sounds. From the perspective of a caveman, virtually all instruments are modern and "unnatural", excepting perhaps drums and no offense to the caveman of course. I would contend there is no such thing as an "unnatural" sound, only one's we prefer and one's we label otherwise. To the hearing mechanism it's all the same, sound pressure at different frequencies.

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#20
In reply to #14

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/30/2008 11:18 AM

Fine comments, and I should indeed clarify:

(mechanical engineer)

Late Hindemith did his tests in the 60's and his state-of-the art equipment would likely be considered very obsolete now. He showed that synthesisers of his day produced outputs with poor frequency content. I.e. a cello playing A at 440Hz is also distributing its energy content in various other frequencies (incl. harmonics) giving the rich spectrum the vibrating string and the wooden sound cavity 'amplifier' naturally produce. This is what causes us to speak of an instrument's 'timbre'. The synthesisers of Hindemith's day produced a single frequency for A, 440Hz. Very poor sound by comparison, lacking all harmonics and other 'natural' byproducts. No 'timbre'. If you don't mind the analogy, it's like comparing a waterfall to a water jet.

I am unsure of the actual frequency content of today's synthesisers, but I still can't hear lush higher harmonics in their sound, so I suppose Hindemith's results still hold true.

Of course, one can say that electric guitars also use vibrating strings and therefore do emit higher harmonics and a richer sound than synthesisers. True. But by doing away with the rest of the guitar (the wooden sound cavity), we lost the rest (and most varied) of the harmonics.

Try the following experiment: Play an electric guitar without plugging it in. It sounds like a kid's toy (poor frequency content). So, in order to move people with his playing, an electrical guitarist must play loud and must amplify to the point where the audience's ears are overwhelmed and at least partially 'shut down', so that the thin harmonic content escapes perception. Another trick to enrich the basically poor harmonic content is by introducing 'effects', such as distortions etc...

You are very correct to point out the risk of deafness for symphony orchestra musicians (not their audience though!) As a cellist, I have often had to play sitting in front of the brass section and, believe me, it can be so loud at times, it's painful. Good luck with your research!

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#16
In reply to #13

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/30/2008 8:40 AM

Dear Guest,

Well said; you should log in or consider becoming a member. A fine example of the subtlies you decribe in classical music can be seen in Rimsky-Korsakov's Sheherezade, the fine, rich violin-solo melody followed by the entire orchestral build up to the climax. What a beautiful piece that has no peer in today's marketplace.

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#28
In reply to #13

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

04/23/2015 7:06 AM

Thank you for sharing the information. I actually love to hear sheet music at low sound. Hope this will not create any side effects on my ears.

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#15

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/30/2008 8:15 AM

I wouldn't be so worried about losing your hearing as you should be about losing your job. Not one of you "milkers" (people who waste company time) that posted voiced any concern about that. I want to know where you people work so I can go there and get paid for listening to music all day.

The same way you are distracted from paying attention when driving while using your cellphone, you are distracted from concentrating on work while listening to your iCrap. I work with people that use iCraps and I always screw with them by mouthing my words so that they don't know what I am saying and have to take them off. Then they realize what I am doing and I tell them to take them off or pack up and leave.

UFG

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#19
In reply to #15

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/30/2008 9:20 AM

Most of us "milkers" work in an office, sitting at a computer all day. I find other people's conversations down the hall much more distracting. If you personally can't get anything done when listening to music that's fine but don't assume everyone is the same way. It all depends on the person and the type of work they are doing.

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#17

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/30/2008 8:46 AM

Try something new fool, turn it down, all it takes is a swipe of your thumb...

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#18
In reply to #17

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/30/2008 8:58 AM

Thank you for that heartfelt advice. If you read the earlier comments, you would see that I said I don't even listen on full-volume. I will take it further here to say that I don't even listen to it on an outrageous volume daily, but as a user of personal music players for most of my life - I know that there will be some kind of effect.

Also, to address a previous comment... the company I work for openly says that listening to music during the day is acceptable behavior. Just because you or the organization that you work doesn't support this idea, doesn't make it wrong.

P.S. Only fools post rudely as guests.

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#21

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/30/2008 11:23 AM

Very interesting posts! Great discussion.

I can attest to the volume issue -- it does cause hearing loss. Several years in the Army riding around in tanks and armored vehicles for significant periods of time caused my hearing loss. It wasn't engine noise, nor was it the very loud boom of the main gun or the chatter of machine guns. I always wore a helmet with close fitting earpieces -- they were in fact radio headphones -- that protected against that noise.

The hearing loss was caused by the radios. In order to increase the range of the radios, we usually had the "squelch" (a noise filter) turned off, so that there was a contant rushing noise and we had the volume turned up in order to hear better. One's commander tends to get very upset if you don't respond quickly, and not being able to hear is not an excuse. Therefore, loud, constant noise through the headpohines (static) with periodic blasts when someone spoke.

As a result, I now get to participate in hearing studies here run by the local state univeristy medical center. They often look for someone with known hearing loss and I fit the bill!

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#22

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/30/2008 1:29 PM

Test your hearing here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4G60hM1W_mk

I've been listening to loud music for decades now and with the exception of a certain Who concert (113 dBA !) I've never noticed any loss.(Unlike Peter Townsend who is almost totally deaf now.) And, yes, I have been tested by an audiologist. As with most everything else, moderation is key.

If you think you are experiencing hearing loss by all means have it checked out but it may also be something as simple as wax buildup. I recently invested in a pair of high end headphones and just for grins tried this stuff :

http://www.epinions.com/content_351348297348

Big difference, especially at very high frequencies. $6 well spent.

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#23

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/30/2008 2:47 PM

I my miss spent youth I listened to acid rock at extreme volumes. Rarely on headphones, never on ear buds because they did not exist.

I rarely had a problem with the speakers. A study was done when I was in college that stated if the noise/music was enjoyable the damage was much less than if the noise/music was irritating. I took that as a licence to rock as loud as I wanted. We lived rural so not many neighbors were damaged in the process.

Later when the Walkmans came out, the ear buds were to small for my small ear canals so I used open headphones. In the last 7 years I tried to use ear buds and they caused me pain at volume in a short time.

I concluded that the pressure waves (sound) from speakers did not aim directly at the ear drum and was not as steep a rise. Headphones have a more direct aim at the ear drum and steep rise. Ear buds are direct sharp waves aimed at the ear with no loss of pressure or a way for the pressure to escape. The eardrum is forced to sync with the speaker in the ear bud and the rest of the ear is damaged by the force.

My hearing is exceptional for my age except in the .223 M16 range. My last check of my ears the nurse showed me a graph of my hearing and pointed out the damage stating that is very common of ex military. I did shoot a lot in my short military stint but shooting other high velocity small caliber rounds without ear protection did the damage.

Brad

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Guru
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#25

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

10/31/2008 2:55 PM

I think I think volume is a lesser issue and limitations should be imposed to limit exposure to damaging high and low frequencies.

Some audiophiles claim to hear below the 55Hz range but then you approach the sense of feeling the sound. A floor should be set at not less than 32Hz, 18Hz and less can cause physical abnormalities including nausea and conditions or symptoms normally thought of as stress related.

On the other end of the spectrum the ear can not substantively discern frequencies above 16KHz.

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Anonymous Poster
#27

Re: Studies Confirm That I Will Probably Lose My Hearing

03/16/2009 5:24 PM

i believe so.. my friend put my ipod on the max and after a while, i ajusted to it and was really dizzy. and in that ear it was in really bad shape the other was alot better. SO listening 2 loud music really does affect long term.

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