EU Scientists Warn of Hearing Loss From Music Players

Listening to personal music players at a high volume over a sustained period can lead to permanent hearing damage, according to an opinion of the European Union Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR).

The scientific opinion shows that 5 percent to 10 percent of personal music player listeners risk permanent hearing loss, if they listen to a personal music player for more than one hour per day each week at high volume settings for at least 5 years. The European Commission had asked the independent scientific committee to examine this issue, given the widespread use of personal music players and the surge in the number of young people exposed to such noise. Scientists confirm that there is cause for concern and the European Commission will now examine possible measures that could be taken to better protect children and adolescents from exposure to noise from personal music players and other similar devices.

"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. The scientific findings indicate a clear risk and we need to react," said EU Consumer Affairs Commissioner Meglena Kuneva.

A European safety standard already exists restricting the noise level of personal music players to 100 dB, but there is increased concern over hearing damage from excessive exposure to such sources. Such damage can be prevented to a large extent by measures such as reducing the noise exposure levels and duration. The EU Scientific Committee opinion highlights that users of personal music players -- if they listen for only 5 hours per week at high volume control settings (exceeding 89 decibels) -- would exceed the current limits in place for noise allowed in the workplace.

Based on this scientific evidence, the Commission is organizing a conference in early 2009 in Brussels to evaluate the findings with various stakeholders and to discuss the way forward. The seminar will address precautions that users can take, as well as technical solutions to minimize hearing damage and the need for further regulations or revisions of existing safety standards to protect consumers.

What consumers can do?

Personal music player users can already take certain very practical precautions, such as checking their device to see if a maximum volume can be set so as to keep the volume lower, or they can lower the volume manually, and they can take care not to use the personal music player for prolonged periods in the interest of their hearing.

The text of the opinion can be found at: http://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_risk/committees/04_scenihr/docs/scenihr_o_018.pdf.

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