The era of music-to-go arguably began with the debut of Sony’s Walkman in 1979. But it was the advent of such Apple devices as the iPod and the iPhone that truly marked the arrival of personal music players. Now, those familiar white earbuds are a common site at gyms, bus stations, and airports everywhere. But, according to a Chicago Tribune article by Jemal R. Brinson, that convenience and portability come with a steep price: deafness. There has been a “significant increase” in hearing loss among young people in recent years, according to the American Medical Association. The World Health Organization, those eternal joykillers, found that half of people between the ages of 12 and 35 are “exposed to unsafe levels of sound from their personal music players.” Part of the problem, the article suggests, is the design of the earbud itself. The speaker on an earbud rests only a half-inch away from the eardrum itself. It also forms a tighter seal with the ear canal than traditional headphones.
Luckily, as the article points out, music lovers wishing to avoid hearing loss have some options open to them. One is to switch to over-the-ear headphones with padding. These have speakers further away from the eardrum and can also help eliminate outside noise. In addition, osteopathic physician James Foy recommends following something called the “60/60 rule.” Listeners should only crank the volume up to 60 percent of a device’s full potential, he says, and they should only listen to a personal music device for 60 minutes at a time. On a happier note, the rumor that a young woman was once electrocuted by her earbuds turns out to be just a silly urban legend. There is no truth to it. Early-onset hearing loss? Yes. Electrocution? No.