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Digital music players can damage hearing

An assessment by the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) advises exercising caution when using digital music players such as MP3s and i-Pods. The assessment concluded that an estimated 10% of people who listen to t...

An assessment by the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) advises exercising caution when using digital music players such as MP3s and i-Pods. The assessment concluded that an estimated 10% of people who listen to their personal music player for more than one hour per day each week at high volume settings for at least five years risk permanent hearing loss. 'I am concerned that so many young people, in particular, who are frequent users of personal music players and mobile phones at high acoustic levels may be unknowingly damaging their hearing irrevocably,' commented EU Consumer Affairs Commissioner Meglena Kuneva. 'The scientific findings indicate a clear risk and we need to react rapidly. Most importantly, we need to raise consumer awareness and put this information in the public domain. We need also to look again at the controls in place [...] to make sure they are fully effective and keep pace with new technology.' Between 50 million and 100 million people listen to music using such devices as MP3 players, mobile phones and i-Pods on a daily basis, according to the report. Personal music players are not new: the Sony Walkman, for example, served the same function and has been around since the 1980s. The difference is that music is now being stored in a digital format as opposed to magnetically on a cassette tape, and this allows users to reach higher sound levels without sacrificing sound quality. Some digital music devices can reach a maximum volume of 120 decibels, the equivalent to the sound of a jet engine or sound levels at a rock concert. For comparison, a gunshot or a firecracker can reach levels of 140 decibels; this is enough to cause immediate damage to one's hearing. Recent studies have indicated an increase in hearing loss among young people over the past few decades. Listening to music from personal music players at maximum volume for a few hours may result in slight hearing loss; if prolonged over long periods of time, the effects may be more permanent. The European Commission has called for a scientific study to look into the effects of prolonged use of personal music players. The Commission will hold a conference to evaluate the findings of the Scientific Committee and to discuss the way forward with Member States, industry, consumers and other stakeholders. They will also look into precautions that users can take, such as advising that users only listen to music at 60% of maximum volume. Current regulations and safety standards will also be revised in light of this new evidence. The conference is tentatively scheduled for early 2009.