SANDY NAIMAN TUNES IN
Julianne Hope loves her iPod. And she loves it loud.
Ever since the Grade 12 student in Thornhill received a sleek, black Nano iPod for her 18th birthday in October, she's listened to her favourite music.
"I keep it in my pocket all the time and I turn it up all the way," she says. "I can hear the music so much better than on a normal stereo. I can hear every note perfectly. I can hear everything. It's really cool."
Hope used to listen to a Sony Discman, but only at home because it was too bulky to carry around. Now, she inserts tiny Apple ear buds into her ear canals first thing in the morning, and there they stay.
When she's in class.
On the subway.
Walking to and from school.
All the time.
"If I want to hear something, I'll take one ear bud out, but the music will always be in the background in my other ear," she says, adding that her ears never bother her from the intensity of the sound, but "when I start noticing something weird, I'll turn it down."
Hope is typical of today's teenagers. They love to pump up the volume on their iPods or MP3 players to such deafening degrees, they feel the music vibrating through their bodies -- the louder, the more they feel it, especially the deep bass.
But they're oblivious to the havoc it's playing with their ears.
"People are not aware of what it takes to damage their ears because hearing loss is invisible and creeps up gradually over 20 or 30 years,"says Marshall Chasin, director of auditory research at the Musicians'Clinics of Canada.
Bombarding your ears with blasting music damages the cilia, themicroscopic, hair-like nerve cells inside the cochlea, the shell-likestructure of the inner ear.
GIVE THEM A REST
Sometimes it may cause ringing in the ears, called tinnitus, a signalthat you've over-exposed your ears to hazardous levels of sound and you need to give them a rest.
Otherwise, excessive noise exposure is painless, permanent and cumulative. If you repeatedly abuse your hearing, eventually you'll lose it.
Chasin stresses that two factors influence music or noise-induced-hearing loss -- volume and duration. If a sound exceeds 85 decibels, it can be damaging, depending on how long you listen without ear protection.
A 2001 study published in the journal Pediatrics reported that one in seven children between the ages of five and 19 have already suffered some form of hearing loss, notes Dr. Brian Fligor, director of diagnostic audiology at Boston's Children's Hospital.
This was a study of the pre-iPod generation who went to rock concerts and clubs, and listened to Sony Walkmans with over-the-ear earphones instead of tiny, in-the-ear earbuds so popular today.
Since 2001, Apple has sold more than 30 million iPods that come with aset of earbuds. It's the leading MP3 player and it's revolutionized music listening habits.
Fligor's research suggests listening to an iPod with over-the-earheadphones at 60% volume is safe for one hour, but with earbuds that go into the ear canal, listening at 60% volume is only safe for half that time.
Yet with the convenience of iPods, chances are people are going to listen far longer than they should.
"We know music can cause hearing loss, but in the kids I'm most often seeing now the symptomatic damage isn't there yet because hearing loss is so gradual," he says.
"If kids start listening to iPods and MP3 players in their early teens, in about 20 or 30 years when they're in their 30s or 40s, we may see more people with hearing loss."
The other potential danger from iPods is that when they're worn outside, people turn up the volume to mask the ambient noise of the city, which is often dangerously loud.
Chasin's rule of thumb is that if you cannot hear someone talking to you while you're listening to your iPod or MP3 player, then it's too loud.
But if you have a kid whose number one Christmas wish is an iPod, Fligor says go ahead and buy it.
"I would just encourage families to impress upon their kids that they need to limit listening time and lower the volume," he says.
"It should be set no higher than 60%."
LOUD BOOMER PAID PRICE
Stan Tepner, 52, is a typical Baby Boomer.
He grew up listening to loud rock n’ roll, but by the time he was 21, he was wearing his first hearing aid.
“My hearing loss may have been caused by ear infections when I was a kid and the antibiotics I was given. It’s hard to say for sure, but the music probably added to it, “the former rock critic says. “As my hearing got weaker, the music may have gotten louder.”
Studies have shown that Baby Boomers, the first generation to be bombarded by excessively loud, stereophonic sound, don’t have hearing that’s normal compared to previous generations.
“Hearing loss is the second-most common disability next to mobility, but only 10% of those who could benefit from hearing aids get that benefit because of the stigma,” says Krista Riko, directore of Mount Sinai Hospital’s otologic function unit and hearing aid dispensary.
SOUNDS LIKE A GOOD IDEA
To help kids safeguard their hearing, the Canadian Hearing Foundation has launched an ambitious new classroom program called Sound Sense:Save Your Hearing for the Music.
It’s the brainchild of Gael Hannan, 51, a passionate hearing loss advocate who was born hard of hearing at a time when children were not fitted with hearing aids.
Her goal is to deliver this interactive program to 3,000 kids to be aware of the dangers of excessive exposure to loud sounds, especially music.
Children begin to consider how important their hearing is and what it might be like to lose it. They’re taught the mechanisms of hearing, how to recognize what levels of sounds are dangerous and are encouraged to wear hearing protection.
“I know kids think they’ll look geeky with ear plugs, so what we’re trying to do is get ear plugs out of the geek realm,” Hannan says.
“One day, they will be accepted, so what we’re doing is planting the seed. Letting these kids know that there is a potential problem. And we’re getting to them, hopefully, before they get their iPods.”