Do iPods and other MP3 players cause hearing loss?

The issue of iPods and potential damage to hearing is discussed in the Feb 13, 2006 issue of Advance magazine. They interviewed Brian Fligor, ScD, CCC-A, of Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School. He had previously studied personal CD players and has recently taken up the issue of iPods and “earbuds” vs. headphones. Earbuds present a 7 to 9dB increase in loudness over traditional over-the-ear phones. The tricky part comes with analyzing an individual user’s behavior, not the device itself. Fligor is studying both. His preliminary recommendation is that operating the iPod at 60% volume, with earbuds, is okay (not damaging to hearing). The impact of durations of more than an hour, or habitual use of several hours a day, have yet to be studied (Banatoi, 2006).

In March 2006, ASHA released the results of a telephone survey designed to assess the use and impact of portable listening devices on high school students (n=301) and adults (n=1000). They announced that high school students are more likely than adults to report having experienced the following three of four symptoms of hearing loss:
• 28% turn up the volume on their tv or music player (26% adults)
• 29% say "what or "huh" during normal conversation (21% adults)
• 17% have tinnitus or ringing in the ears (12% adults)

Not surprisingly, two-fifths of students and adults play the volume loud, with students twice as likely as adults to play music very loud (13% to 6%). However, adults are more likely than students to use their MP3 players for longer periods of time; 43% of adults use them for 1-4 hours or longer (9%) compared to fewer than one-third of students.
(from accessed March 19, 2006
“ASHA advises consumers to lower volume levels, limit listening time, and use earphones that--unlike ear buds which come with products like the iPod--block out unwanted sound that can prompt users to increase volume levels (77% of surveyed students, 81% of adults have not purchased such earphones, poll results indicate). It also encourages the public to see a certified audiologist if they are experiencing hearing loss symptoms.” . (, accessed March 19, 2006).

This advice may not take into consideration what iPod users are doing while they listen – and that blocking out environmental noise presents additional saftey hazards in some circumstances. Basically, the jury is still out – we need more research to determine how long and how loud is safe. Congressman Edward Markey of Mass has called for more research and, in conjunction with ASHA’s survey announcement, requested that the NIH address this concern. ( to the NIDOCD on Hearing Loss.pdf, accessed March 19, 2006).


            Banotai, A. (2006). iPods, earphones & hearing loss: Audiologists set the record straight. Advance, 16 (7), 6-8, 16.
            ASHA survey on the use of MP3 players and noise-induced hearing loss.
(, accessed March 19, 2006).
© 2006-2007 Paula S. Cochran, Ph.D., CCCSLP