A recent study by researchers at the National Acoustic Laboratories at Macquarie University found that 1 in 10 Australians are routinely cranking up the level of their tablets and phones to dangerously harmful levels.
Our handheld devices certainly make those dull moments of life a lot more bearable, but they can also leave us deaf. This study aimed to find the extent of the harm these devices pose, as well as attempting to identify the population at risk.
Both the amount of listening time and the volume at which we play our music have a role in causing hearing damage. The higher the volume, and the longer the exposure, the more likely damage will occur.
Lead author Dr. Megan Gilliver says about the findings: “High-risk users, who listened at high volumes for long durations, in all age groups were more likely to report hearing difficulties, particularly in relation to speech and conversation, compared with those with lower levels of risk.”
Researchers split the participants into three groups – low, high and very high risk – according to how long they listened to their devices and their preferred volume. The higher risk groups were likely to be younger, and include a slightly higher number of females.
On average, the very high risk group listened to their devices with the volume pumped up to 84 per cent, a striking contrast with the low risk group who listened to their devices at an average volume of 49 per cent.
The study also showed that participants in the very high risk group tended to crank up the volume up to 90 per cent or more in noisy environments like the gym or during the commute.
Dr Gilliver urged Australians to limit listening time to no more than 1.5 hours a day, and to keep the volume below 80 per cent of the maximum.
“These results suggest a potential relationship between PLD use and speech-in-noise hearing difficulties, indicating that PLD users need to be aware that their listening habits could be impacting their ability to hear in other settings,” he says.
According to the study, 41 per cent of the 4185 participants felt they suffered some hearing loss, and 20 per cent reported difficulties with speech in noise.
“For 18 to 35-year-olds, higher-risk status was associated with a greater proportion of these self-reported hearing difficulties, including perceived poorer speech perception,” Dr Gilliver says.
According to Australia’s National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL), 1 in 6 Australians will suffer hearing loss during their lifetimes, and this figure is predicted to rise to 1 in 4 by 2050.
Dr Elizabeth Beach, co-author of the study, encourages Australians to go for in-ear earphones or noise-cancelling headphones, affordable alternatives that can be less harmful as they reduce the need to pump up the volume.
“More than a quarter of participants’ overall listening time was undertaken using the default ear buds or headphones that came with their device,” Dr Beach said.
“Only a small percentage of listening time, around 7.5 per cent, was undertaken with noise-cancelling devices, meaning that only a small number of us are taking advantage of newer technology that cuts out background sound and can really help with reducing overall exposure.”
The study was published in the academic journalSeminars in Hearing in 2017.