Is Your iPod, iPhone Damaging Your Ears?

150 years ago, loss of hearing because of constant loud noise stressing the ear was known as "the blacksmith disease"; nowadays, according to the author of a new paper in the Journal of Hearing Science, we ought to rename the term "MP3 disease".

A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine reveals that 20% of adult Americans suffer from some degree of serious, permanent hearing loss. The American Academy of Otolaryngology says that listening to an MP3 player at 100 decibels for 15 minutes can cause hearing loss (max volume of average mp3 player is around 115db).

Dr Andrew Bell, a biologist at the Australian National University, suggests that a theory from a century and a half ago should be considered to help remedy the ear-damage problem with the MP3 generation.

The pressure theory describes how the human ear protects itself from damage caused by loud sounds and explains inconsistencies that have long puzzled hearing researchers. "The pressure theory has the potential to lead to better measures to protect people from damagingly loud sound levels", Dr Bell proposed.

Inside the human ear three tiny bones and two muscles work together, like a tiny pump, raising the pressure of the fluid in the inner ear. According to Andrew Bell, the increased pressure softens the impact of loud noises on the delicate cells that process sound and protect the ear.

For the modern headset user the theory could provide significant answers. "If we can find a way to make the middle ear muscles 'pump' more effectively, we could provide better protection against noise," Dr Bell explained.