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Is our love of loud music sending us deaf?

By
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Keith David Barnard
young adult wearing earbuds

18th December 2013 – Everyone in the UK is being invited to take part in a survey to see if listening to loud music is responsible for an increase in hearing loss.

Scientists will be looking at how our listening past affects our hearing present by sampling those who have lived through the eras of radio, stereos, Walkmans, MP3 players and iPods.

Latest estimates show that around 1 in 6 adults have at least some hearing loss and that this prevents them understanding people over the hubbub of a busy room. Researchers from the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) say this is a rise of around 12% over the last 2 decades and that the figure is expected to increase further due to an ageing population.

According to the World Health Organisation, the single biggest cause of preventable hearing loss is loud noise. Although rates of hearing damage in the UK should be falling because of the decline of heavy industry and legal restrictions on workplace noise, questions have been asked about the role of amplified sound on the population’s hearing.

100 years of amplified sound

The MRC was established 100 years ago – around the same time as the first audio amplifier was invented which ushered in an era when sound volume could be increased.

The question of whether sound amplification could be behind the increase in the number of people with hearing difficulties, or whether it can be attributed to just 'part of growing old', is behind an online survey being launched today.

Lead researcher Dr Michael Akeroyd, from the MRC Institute of Hearing Research, says in a statement: Back in 1913, when the MRC came into being, music was played on horn gramophones and the first electronic amplifier, the valve, was only about 5 years old. But in the last 100 years or so, there has been revolution after revolution in music amplification and we can now play music for hours at levels that could be potentially damaging.

"A lot of MP3 players or headphones will be bought for Christmas presents, and there’s the temptation to turn the music up loud. We want to find out if prolonged exposure to loud music really does cause hearing problems," said Dr Akeroyd.

Online questionnaire

The survey takes the form of a 10 minute online questionnaire which asks about music listening habits. Questions include, 'How often would you say you went to gigs, concerts, and festivals?'. This is followed by a section about exposure to mp3 players and similar personal stereo devices.

The final section is a test to assess how well participants can hear a series of numbers spoken against background noise. This is called a speech-in-noise test.

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