December 18, 2009

Pre-setting volume can help protect hearing

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Volume limits are accessible from the settings menu of most portable devices. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Pre-setting volume can help protect hearing

Parents and children giving or receiving an electronic device with music this holiday season should give their ears a gift as well by pre-setting the maximum decibel level to somewhere between one-half and two-thirds maximum volume.

Any sound over 85 decibels (dBs) exceeds what hearing experts consider to be a safe level, and some MP3 players are programmed to reach levels as high as 120 dBs at their maximum.

Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center Director Ron Eavey, M.D., who also chairs the Department of Otolaryngology, says the younger generation is especially susceptible to hearing loss when they listen to music with headphones or earbuds either too long or too loud.

One preventive measure is to pre-set the device so that it cannot be turned up to damaging levels.

“As parents, we can't hear how loud their music is when they have the earbuds in, so this is an important step,” Eavey said. “I can tell you that if you hear the music coming from their headphones it is too loud, but an easier way to know for sure is to preset the device.

“This will still allow them to listen to and enjoy their music but will safeguard against ear-damaging volume levels.”

Eavey said the problem stems from the fact that our brains love music and inherently want the volume turned up, but our ears can’t always handle that volume adjustment.

“If you are walking down the street listening and there is a jackhammer across the street, most people will turn up their MP3 player to drown out the jackhammer.”

Anne Marie Tharpe, Ph.D., chair of Hearing and Speech Sciences, says that noise-induced hearing loss is often not obvious right away, especially with young children.

“The symptoms can initially be subtle and include difficulty hearing when there is background noise. Such losses can result in significant challenges for children in classroom settings.”

It is also important to remember that higher resolution music downloads will allow for better sound at low volume levels.