Doctors Urge Parents to Preset Volume on Electronic Gifts

Dec. 18, 2009
If you’re giving someone an MP3 player or other electronic device with sound this holiday season, give the recipient’s ears a gift as well by pre-setting the maximum decibel level to somewhere between one-half and two-thirds the maximum volume.

Any sound over 85 decibels (dBs) exceeds what hearing experts consider to be a safe level. Some MP3 players, however, are programmed to reach levels as high as 120 dBs at their maximum.

Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center Director Ron Eavey, M.D., who also chairs the Department of Otolaryngology, says the new generation especially is susceptible to hearing loss when they listen to music with headphones or earbuds either too long or too loud. One preventive measure is to preset the device before giving it to children so that it cannot be turned up to damaging levels.

“As parents, we can’t hear how loud their music is when they have the earbuds in, so this is an important step,” Eavey said. “I can tell you that if you hear the music coming from their headphones it is too loud, but an easier way to know for sure is to preset the device.

“This will still allow them to listen to and enjoy their music but will safeguard against ear-damaging volume levels.”

Spare Your Ears

Eavey said the problem stems from the fact that our brains love music and inherently want the volume turned up but our ears can’t always handle that volume adjustment.

“If you are walking down the street listening to your MP3 player and there is a jackhammer across the street, most people will turn up their MP3 player to drown out the jackhammer,” he said.

It also is important to remember that higher resolution music downloads will allow for better sound at low volume levels. Music with little detail, or lower resolution, will play at a lower quality and may result in the listener cranking the volume.

Anne Marie Tharpe, professor and chair of Hearing and Speech Sciences, says that noise-induced hearing loss is often not obvious right away, especially with young children.

“The symptoms can initially be subtle and include difficulty hearing when there is background noise. Such losses can result in significant challenges for children in classroom settings,” she said.

To protect the ears of your loved ones and ensure your children protect their hearing for many holidays to come, give the gift of hearing health and preset these devices.

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