Headphones have become so common, most people don't even notice them. Walking, jogging, riding on public transportation or even just at a coffee shop, everyone is plugged into something. For some, it's music, while others like audible books or podcasts.
Big headphones and a tablet or smartphone are especially popular with younger children. Parents are often happy to have a child occupied on a long trip with a movie or game, but are there risks to using portable devices so often? New research suggests that limiting the use of headphones might be smart in younger children.
Researchers from Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam analyzed hearing tests from 3, 316 children between the ages of 9 and 11. Parents were also asked about their children's listening habits, how often they used headphones and at what volume. Out of the entire group, 443 children, roughly 14% had some measurable hearing loss at high frequencies. When hearing at the top of the frequency scale is diminished, especially at a young age, the cause is most commonly related to noise exposure.
The study found that the risk of developing hearing loss was twice as high in children who used headphones and players, regardless of volume, even when the use was only once or twice a week. In an email to Reuters, study author Dr. Carlijn le Clercq of the university said, "Although we cannot conclude from this study that music players caused these hearing losses, it shows that music exposure might influence hearing at a young age. This is important because hearing loss is irreversible and thus has lifelong consequences."
The study isn't a clear indictment of using portable players and headphones, however. There were some limitations of the study noted by the authors. While noise exposure is often the culprit in hearing loss, another common factor in children is ear infections. Chronic otitis media can result in hearing loss in children and the study did not collect data on ear infections. In addition data on headphone and player use was unavailable in about 1/3 of the children in the study. Still, it's important information to have since the use of these devices will only increase. In an interview with Gizmodo, Dr. le Clercq said, "Our study is one of the first large population-based studies to show that there was an association between music player use and high-frequency hearing loss among 9-11-year-old children"
The team plans to follow up with the children to see if they can further document any hearing issues. A commentary accompanying the article points out that in the European Union there are regulations on maximum volume levels on devices, keeping output below 85 decibels. Check out the video below to learn more about the research.