NIH: More research needed for iPod hearing risk | iLounge News


NIH: More research needed for iPod hearing risk

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) said that further research is needed to determine whether portable music players and earbud headphones increase the risk of hearing loss. NIH commented on the issue in response to a lawmaker’s request for a review of hearing problems associated with iPod earbud usage.

Reuters reports: “Earbud headphones, like the ones typically used with iPods, project sound directly into the ear canal, while traditional earmuff-style headphones allow the sound to diffuse, the NIH said in a February 14 letter made available on Tuesday. The proximity of the source of the sound to the ears can contribute to hearing loss, but ‘more research is required to determine if a particular type (of earphone) increases the risk,’ said James Battey, director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.”

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“Earbud headphones, like the ones typically used with iPods, project sound directly into the ear canal, while traditional earmuff-style headphones allow the sound to diffuse”

Now, I’m no audiologist but I would say that ANY headphone would project sound into the ear canal. After all, that is why you have ears - to collect and direct/project the sound into your ear canal and so to your eardrum.
Trying to blame the earbud (yet again it’s all Apple’s fault) is erroneous. Ever since humans started to use headphones to hear sound they have been doing damage of some degree to their hearing.
To make a simplistic claim that earmuff style phones allows sound to disperse is wrong IMO. If they are closed back phones they’re going to redirect the sound into your ear - if they are open back then some sound will be lost to the ‘outside’ but, I dare say, the user will crank the volume up to compensate.
So phones which isolate ambient noise and therefore allow the listener to use lower levels of volume are a wiser choice.

More research? How about using commonsense?......

Posted by Bob Levens on March 14, 2006 at 3:28 PM (CST)


Not that I’m overly concerned, but I find that even the lowest volume setting is too loud (fatiguing) with my buds in the office.  (Actually, I think it’s the second lowest setting – the lowest is basically inaudible.)

I have a circuit that attenuates the volume.  Does anyone else find it too loud (or am I weird)?

Posted by Brian on March 14, 2006 at 3:31 PM (CST)


I think apple should make it harder for you to accidently turn the volume up, it can jump up if you are trying to change tracks and you accadently brush the click weel.

Also when the volume is two high the volume bar could go red to war people.

Posted by Peachey on March 14, 2006 at 4:03 PM (CST)


I’m not an audiologist either but I have to agree with the idea of first post (Bob Levens) that it’s got to be common sense that all headphones - if used improperly - cause ear damage, some more than others but the differences in damage based on earphones being minimal (if any sound doesn’t make it into the ear, the user will just turn it up). I tried a few different types of earphones and I found myself changing volumes with different earphone types. I ended up going back to the Apple Earbuds and using the Griffin Earjams - I find that I turn DOWN the volume now because this combination works so well for me (I’m sure not for everyone). And Brian (2nd post) - I don’t think you’re alone - I’ve found the volumes (even prior to using the Earjams) to be fairly high and sometimes uncomfortable.

But having that range to play with is helpful too because I use my iPod in many situations (with iTrip, with headphones, with iTalk, with powered speakers). It’s up to the USER to take care of themselves!

Posted by Mike on March 14, 2006 at 4:03 PM (CST)


Peachy that’s a great idea. Having the bar go red when you are getting to an unsafe volume. Then these idiots who complain about thier hearing couldn’t say anything. They’ve been warned. Of course even that probably won’t work. Anyone who’s to dumb to know that playing music loud in your ears will damage their hearing probably is to dumb to know that red means bad.

Posted by Glorybox3737 on March 14, 2006 at 4:12 PM (CST)


The thing is that you dont need to be careless with your iPod. The sound is very important, if it gos into your ear right away, comon sense tell any person it could harm the ear if the sound is up to high! just take care of those ears god gave us!

Posted by LawnBoy on March 14, 2006 at 5:38 PM (CST)




ANYTHING can be damaging to your hearing. Don’t need to be no shartie-pants scientist to tell ya that! lol c’mon folks this is common sense here!

Posted by Werewolf on March 14, 2006 at 8:46 PM (CST)


Brian - I know what you mean sorta. Sometimes at night when the house is quiet I may be working on something and I don’t want my music too loud. I turn the volume down as low as possible but it’s still not as quiet as I’d like. I found that putting on the sound-check usually takes down the volume level just a bit. I think Apple should start putting in a feature right into the iPod that will take the volume down lower for times when you need it to be quiet enough to hear background noise or quiet enough to do written work with. Maybe if you could switch on a “half sound” sorta thing where you could only get half the volume of the normal iPod. It also depends on what headphones you use. I think something should be done to stop all this stupid crap about hearing loss. It’s music folks, you need to hear it.

Posted by Werewolf on March 14, 2006 at 8:55 PM (CST)


it doesn’t matter how much ‘common sense’ you use; this is the national institutes of health, they’re not idiots.
studies have shown that the output level that a lot of people listen to their earbuds can be as high as 120dB. the US occupational safety and health administration state that employees can only be exposed to 115dB of noise for a maximum of a quarter of an hour per day, which goes to show how little it takes to fuck up your hearing. using earmuff style headphones not only allows one to listen at much lower levels because of their noise cancellation, but they actually sound *good*. earbuds cannot sound good. i suppose they can sound acceptable, but that’s about it.
walking around with your earbuds blaring for hours a day does to your ears what walking around staring at the sun would do to your eyes.
and blaming the earbud has nothing to do with blaming apple; earbuds have been around far longer than ipods.

Posted by nick on March 15, 2006 at 3:36 AM (CST)


I actually said “So phones which isolate ambient noise and therefore allow the listener to use lower levels of volume are a wiser choice.”
The earbuds which come with the iPod are uncomfortable for many to wear and I was meaning the IEM type which seal in your ear (Etymotic etc) or those which cover the ear completely (like Bose) - earmuff could include those which sit over the ear, but not provide a seal.

As for the NIH being idiots. When they come out with a statement like “Earbud headphones, like the ones typically used with iPods, project sound directly into the ear canal, while traditional earmuff-style headphones allow the sound to diffuse, the NIH said in a February 14 letter made available on Tuesday.” I have to wonder.

As I said ALL earphones do that - IEM, earbuds, on-the-ear, over-the-ear - they ALL project sound directly into the ear canal….
And for them to say that earmuff-style allows the sound to disperse? Disperse where if they are sealed over your ear? What earmuff style phones do they mean?

As for blaming Apple. We have had personal music devices since the 80’s now, but why is it whenever some new research reveals using them is injurious to ones health the name Apple or iPod is always included in the report?
What about all the maunfacturers of headphones? They are all as guilty of causing damage to hearing.
That is like saying that if you drive a Ford at high speed you’re going to be involved in a car crash, rather than saying “a car”, and I think it is just headline grabbing tactics by these researchers.
If they said “using earbuds, like the ones typically used with Zens…” people would not read it.
And they’ll be getting paid to research this…....

Posted by Bob Levens on March 15, 2006 at 6:45 AM (CST)


Now this just isn’t fair. Personal steroes have been around WAY before the iPod, like 20 years maybe?

All of a sudden the IPOD is contributing to hearing loss. wow. I guess personal responsibility and common sense is never to blame, eh?

Posted by ahMEmon on March 15, 2006 at 8:25 AM (CST)


hello people.  all the NIH said was that there is a reasonable suspicion based on preliminary data that prolonged earphone usage may damage hearing, and that it is reasonable to assume that there may be differences due to the style of headphone you wear but that there is no data on the subject and research is recommending.  What kind of idiot would complain about that?  Especially if you like music!

Also, no one has ever blamed the ipod for damaging hearing based on earphone use.  It is the widespread popularity and prevalence of the ipod, however, which HAS made this issue a public health concern.

And Apple DOES deserve blame.  I believe the latest model, at least, is deeply flawed (it is my first so I can’t judge)  I can’t tell how many times I have been just walking down the street when suddenly the volume on my video ipod jumps from halfway to FULL volume, and I am forced to rip out my earpods as the quickest way to remove them.  Not only is this extremely scary, it honestly makes me wonder whether I have received hearing damage from these incidents.  I assume this is occurring because of an over sensitive clickwheel if not from an outright bug.

As if that weren’t enough, my cellphone (LG/Cingular) also causes my ipods volume to change.  Any transmissions from an incoming call cause my ipods volume to cycle from half to 3/4 to full to zero and so on until the phone stops ringing.  I have taken to carrying the phone on the opposite side of my body.

Does anyone else have these problems, or should I get a new ipod?

Posted by jarofchris on March 15, 2006 at 10:15 AM (CST)


Also, no one has ever blamed the ipod for damaging hearing based on earphone use.”
Err, what about the numpty trying to sue Apple for exactly this?

You think the iPod is “deeply flawed”? Try using the hold switch…..

And you’re worried about the risks to your health caused by the iPod and you’re carrying a mobile phone around in your pocket?

I’m off for a walk round the garden…..

Posted by Bob Levens on March 15, 2006 at 10:47 AM (CST)


When I use the hold switch I cannot skip songs or adjust the volume per song as necessary.  Although the hold switch has its proper function, I think it is reasonable to expect a device that does not suddenly jump to new volume levels even with active controls.  I have owned numerous pieces of audio technology including computers, walkmans, CD players and mp3 players and not one of them has EVER even once had a sudden spontaneous jump in volume nor responded to a cell phone signal.  Why should I expect any less from an ipod?

Also, I am worried about very real risks to my hearing based on an occasional dangerous jump to full volume.  I never accused the ipod of causing me cancer.  On the other hand, I am quite comfortable carrying a cell phone around close to my body, especially when it is not in use, given the negligible increased risk of cancer it causes me.  Not even in the same ballpark here.

Enjoy your walk around the garden.

Posted by jarofchris on March 15, 2006 at 11:52 AM (CST)


My, it’s a nice day out there….

How about using a case? And your previous devices - did they use touch controls or physical sliders/switches? The iPod is prone to skipping tracks etc hence the hold switch.

Why your cellphone should cause your iPods volume to fluctuate is odd, although you can’t blame Apple for that one.

I never said your iPod would cause cancer, just that you have concerns for your hearing while none for carrying a phone?
Also, when you say your phone is “not in use” do you mean it is turned off? Because even if you are not making a call the cellphone is constantly searching for the best signal from the cellphone antennas. And if it is buried away in your clothing it is actually radiating even more to keep in touch with the system.

And anything which may cause cancer of any type should be treated with caution.

Posted by Bob Levens on March 15, 2006 at 12:06 PM (CST)


Actually Brian, i have to agree with you, my friends tell me i’m a spazz because i tend to listen to my iPod very low so when we’re sharing earbuds at school they tend to change the song and then push the volume to almost maximum (drastic change considering i listen to mine in loud places a little lower than halfway) but seriously i can hear it fine and most people tend to listen to their music loud because their ears arn’t as senseitive or just like it loud who knows. but music is music if you gotta turn it up loud to enjoy it i won’t envy you when you need a hearing aid, but for now, who cares about hearing loss. don’t worry about it you never know if you’ll even have ears tommorrow.(creepy)

Posted by Aaron on March 15, 2006 at 12:23 PM (CST)


I don’t listen to my music very loud usually but when I do turn up the volume it’s only because when it’s louder I can hear some parts of the music that I can’t really get when it’s quiet. I’m a big Yes fan and you may know what I’m talking about but their music has a lot of detail. I sometimes need to have the volume up in order to get all of it. It’s never up much past half way. I generally don’t don’t like loud noise. At least noise loud enough to be uncomfortable. I usually keep the sound-check on just in case it gets bumped up to full on accident it’s not as scary cuz believe me full volume KILLS me! My friend blew out his headphones with it up all the way and I was like…. “WOW”... I don’t understand how he can stand it.

jarofchris - stop whining… The hold switch is there to prevent your volume from doing that and you can’t blame Apple or your iPod if you’re too lazy to switch the hold switch on and off when you change the song and adjust the volume. If you really need to change the volume that much maybe you should try using the sound-check. That would level it out a bit. Just a suggestion…

Posted by Werewolf on March 15, 2006 at 3:37 PM (CST)



how can you possibly consider my comments “whining”? 

Anyways, despite your insulting tone, you and Bob raise a couple worthwhile points.  First of all, I do use a case.  The static issue happens with or without it, as does the cellphone issue.  Second, you assume that the hold switch solves this problem.  However, it solves only the static issue, not the cell-phone issue.  Third, flicking the hold switch every time one wants to make a volume adjustment is fairly disruptive to normal activities but is worthwhile for activities that expose the ipod to constant physical motion, such as exercising. 

The point is, I shouldn’t have to use the hold switch to protect my hearing.  I’d rather have separate non-static volume control buttons uglifying the front of the ipod then to have to worry about this problem. 

Look I love my ipod.  that’s why I haven’t given it up already.  I’m just frustrated about this and I believe that my frustration is reasonable.

Posted by jarofchris on March 15, 2006 at 5:39 PM (CST)


dude, flipping the hold switch to change volume is disruptive? pfff.. what, can your index finger not take the strain? gimme a break. quit blaming your refusal to use the device properly on a non-existent ‘over sensitive clickwheel’.

Posted by nick on March 15, 2006 at 7:00 PM (CST)


“More research is needed to determine whether popular portable music players like Apple Computer Inc.‘s iPod…”

The iPod is mentioned because it is ubiquitous; everybody instantly knows what you’re taking about when you say iPod. Leaving it at “portable music players” doesn’t register as quickly as saying iPod. It’s kinda like saying Learjet or Cessna instead of corporate jet. Or Tivo, instead of digital video recorder.

“‘Sales of the devices have shattered all expectations,’ Markey said. ‘There is a very real need for research.’”

They just explained why this is happening now in two sentences.

“Research into the phenomenon began in the early 1980s, soon after the 1979 introduction of portable radio and cassette players with headphones, like Sony Corp.‘s Walkman.”

They also mentioned that it happened again when Walkmans were popular. Remember when everybody considered all cassette players Walkmans? (not just Sony’s) It’s heading in that direction with iPods and DAPs.

Posted by George on March 15, 2006 at 9:57 PM (CST)

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