In an editorial published today on, an expert warns that young people who listen to personal music players for several hours a day at high volume could be putting their hearing at risk.

Personal music devices such as MP3 players can generate levels of sound at the ear in excess of 120 decibels. Professor Peter Rabinowitz from Yale University School of Medicine explains that this is similar in intensity to a jet engine, especially when used with earphones that insert into the ear canal.

The majority of young people commonly use these devices. Surveys from Europe and the United States report that more than 90 percent use them. Professor Rabinowitz says it “has grown faster than our ability to assess their potential health consequences.”

However, evidence that music players are causing hearing loss in young people is mixed. The author says that this suggests that the true population effects may be starting to be noticeable only now.

Also, other health effects may need to be examined. For instance, in a similar way to mobile phones, some studies have indicated that use of personal music players can interfere with concentration and performance when driving.

Evidence based guidance is lacking. But Rabinowitz comments that the importance of hearing loss as a public health problem makes it logical to encourage patients of all ages to promote “hearing health” through avoidance of excessive noise exposure.

In addition, he suggests cautiously removing earphones while driving and performing other safety sensitive tasks. He recommends further comprehensive and ongoing surveys of the hearing health of young people.

He writes in conclusion: “Personal music players provide a reminder that our hunger for new technology should be accompanied by equally vigorous efforts to understand and manage the health consequences of changing lifestyles.”

“Hearing loss and personal music players”
Peter M Rabinowitz
BMJ 2010;340:c1261

Written by Stephanie Brunner (B.A.)