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Hearing and personal listening devices


Gail Padish Clarin, doctor of Audiology, Rehabilitation Services manager, Cardon Children’s Medical Center

Question: With the increased popularity of personal listening devices, what effect does this have on our hearing?

Answer: Nearly 10 million Americans have hearing loss as a result of excess noise exposure.  Numbers are expected to increase with the increasing popularity of personal listening devices, such as personal stereo systems, cell phones, and laptop computers.   If used improperly, these systems can cause permanent hearing loss and ringing in the ears (tinnitus).  Other non-auditory problems, including increased blood pressure, ulcers, sleep disturbance, distraction, and learning problems can also result from noise exposure.

In a recent investigation, the American Speech Language Hearing Association sampled nine popular technology devices currently on the market.  All are capable of producing sound above the maximum safety level if 85 decibels.  Many of these devices are marketed to younger children.  Even minimal hearing loss in children can result in educational and social developmental delays.

A February 2006 poll found teenage boys are more likely than teenage girls to use products surveyed in ways that may cause hearing loss later in life.  More than half teens surveyed stated they are not likely to cut down on time used with technology. 

Question: What can consumers do to help?


  • Reduce the volume to a comfortable listening level.  If the noise is causing pain, it can be damaging.
  • Take frequent breaks from listening and limit overall listening time
  • Use headphones or customized molds that isolate the wanted music from background noise

Question: How does sound affect the inner ear?

Answer: Sound waves are gathered in the outer ear and directed through the ear canal.  They vibrate the eardrum, sending vibrations through the middle ear bones to the inner ear.  Inside the inner ear, the cochlea, a spiral structure containing fluid and highly sensitive hair cells, respond to pitch and loudness of sound.  Outer and inner hair cells are connected to nerve fibers that translate sound as electrical signals to the brain.

Page Last Modified: 09/29/2010
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