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Hearing and iPods: Should something be done?

Photo of earbudsHearing loss in teens is up in the United States. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that about one in five teenagers has some degree of hearing loss.

Researchers found that in the early 1990s nearly 15 percent of teens had some degree of hearing loss, but a more recent survey from the mid 2000s found that nearly 20 percent were affected, an increase of about a third!

One of the researchers actually was surprised by the findings and thought the number of people affected should have decreased because of medical advances like better treatment of ear infections, according to a Reuters article.

So what’s to blame?

One factor mentioned in the Reuters article was the use of MP3 players. Although no one in the article says they are specifically to blame, a past president of the American Academy of Audiology still suggests turning down the volume and taking frequent breaks from listening.

According to the article, the American Academy of Audiology contacted Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, about adding a volume limiter to iPods but never heard back.

However, a 2007 article in the Daily Mail said that a new patent “reveals that the next iPods and iPhones could automatically calculate how long a person has been listening and at what volume, before gradually reducing the sound level.”

This came after a man filed a class action lawsuit against Apple in 2006 saying the company didn’t take adequate steps to prevent hearing loss in iPod users. Complaints about iPods affecting hearing then began, and iPod released a free software update that allowed listeners to set a max volume.

However, the courts ruled that Apple iPod earbuds could not be held responsible for hearing loss. Although evidence was presented that iPod earbuds could be much safer, the judge wrote the there was not enough evidence to show the earbuds were dangerous, just that they could be improved. For more information on the case, check out the Reuters article here.

This brings up some questions. Since iPods could be contributing to a hearing problem, should Apple (and other music device companies) be responsible for taking greater safeguards? Such a change would certainly be a more upstream approach than asking individuals to turn their volume down, but is it a step that should be taken?