New York Mayor takes action on earbuds

The Hearing Loss Prevention Media Campaign started by Mayor Bloomberg, will cost $250,000, and is being financed through a grant received from the New York Fund for Public Health. The goal is to make young people aware of the danger to their hearing from personal music player use. The New York data shows a very high rate of hearing damage associated with headphone use, and most studies come out in the same ball park, but the story is somewhat simplified.

The good thing about this study is that it draws attention to the noise hazard of leisure activities. People who engage in listening to a lot of loud music probably also go to venues with loud music and may play instruments too.

In practice, we need to focus on the very robust research about noise exposure and the concept of noise dosage. You can listen to music at levels below about 80dB pretty much as much as you like. If you listen to music above 95dB, you are wise to limit your listening to about 30 minutes. But what happens if you mix your listening to music with a personal music player with other activities that are high intensity sounds, like a big night out, or music practice, or working out at a gym with overly loud music? Then it all starts to get complicated, and the amount of noise exposure can quickly mount up.

Why do people put music players up loud, anyway? There are some reasons that are easy for us to understand. You are listening to your music, in your own little world. Much nicer than listening to your fellow passengers talking, or train noise. But the noise around you is loud, so you turn up your music to block out the noise. This means that the sound level of the music hitting the eardrum is louder than when there is no background noise. You are in competition. The sounds reaching your eardrum are too high. So the chances of it being too loud are higher.

What are we to do? It’s relaxing listening to music. I wish I had had access to a personal music player when I was young. But there are lots of things we can do to protect our ears, just as we can reduce harmful sun exposure.

Go somewhere fairly quiet, ands set your music player to a comfortable level. Then you can set the volume limiter, so that the volume won’t go higher than that.

Get some excellent headphones or earbuds to block out at least some of the background noise. Some types of headphones have cushion surrounds to reduce background sound: Some earbuds have noise reduction features. Either will help a lot.
When you go to music venues, use earplugs. Put them in before you have a few beers.

Earplugs also come in several types. It’s best to use custom made earplugs, to get good protection. You can get special types that allow you to hear music quite naturally.

Get a smartphone app to measure the noise you are exposed to. Make sure to keep your noise dosage under danger levels. I like the App called Noise Hunter, but a free sound level is a start.

Above all remember that:

Noise dosage is cumulative – like sunlight. A high dose of sunshine can cause irreversible damage. It’s the same with noise. A long day in the sun when the sun is not so strong, will cause permanent damage. Likewise, the hearing detection and coding system in the inner ear is permanently damaged by over-exposure to loud sounds.


  1. Elaine, somebody sent me an article which referred to a ‘disorder’ (forget the exact name) where people get almost addicted to excessively loud noises. Not sure I believe that, but for those of us with serious hearing loss – it’s like a lung cancer victim watching smokers.
    You may have seen in the press recently, some articles about noise in restaurants. Hideously loud in some cases. And the proprietors actually thought it a good thing! I avoid such places like the plague.
    And we’ve had a few tradesman at our place recently. One operating a chainsaw, inches from his ears, No Hearing Protection.

    I’m reluctant to give unsolicited advice but I had to say…
    Trust me, it’s not fun losing your hearing.


    Rod Taylor
    1. Really interesting comment. I call them loudness junkies and they come in many forms.
      There are those people who were supplied with hearing aids 20 years ago, who got used to LOUD rather than good signal processing. Nothing they could have done to avoid this.
      There are people who just like LOUD, and who are probably damaging their hearing.
      As to public places, three cheers for restaurants with carpet, table cloths and no loud music.
      Keep up the good work of drawing attention to the downside of hearing loss

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