Past Features

April 20, 2009 (Vol. 9, No. 7)

Lehman Students May Be At Risk for Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

A significant number of Lehman students may be at risk for Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) because of the levels at which they're playing their iPods and other portable music players.

That's one of the preliminary findings of research under way in Lehman's Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences Department.

Graduate students Jennifer McGinnis, Marilyn Lazarus, and Elissa Kluger are working with Professor Sandra Levey on a campaign to prevent noise-induced hearing loss due to the use of portable music players (PMPs). Professor Levey is also collaborating with Professor Tania Levey of York College, who is providing information on the social aspects of iPod use, and Dr. Brian J. Fligor, director of Diagnostic Audiology at Children's Hospital Boston and an instructor in otology and laryngology at Harvard Medical School. Collaboration between speech-language pathologists and audiologists is encouraged by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, given that both professions are focused on health issues that include the prevention of communication disorders.

According to Professor Levey, PMPs are often used at sound levels and for durations that pose a risk to hearing. One factor that contributes to a higher chosen listening level is the background noise in the PMP user's listening environment. Studies have shown that people choose music listening levels thirteen decibels higher than the noise in their environments (i.e., subways and city streets).

The team recruited sixty Lehman students who agreed to have their earphone levels measured. Each one completed a questionnaire that requested demographic information and asked whether or not they commuted using the subway, the type of PMP and earphones they used, and the duration and frequency of use of their PMP. Levels from each participant's PMP were measured using a mannequin developed originally at Oregon Health and Sciences University in 2007.

Results from the study showed average measured levels from the PMP earphones were 93.2 dBA (SD = 9.82) with a range of 72-113 dBA. Average hours of use per week were 20.8 hours (SD = 19.1) with a range of 1-105 hours.

Using this estimate of noise exposure, the average PMP user was exposed to twenty times the allowable noise exposure from his or her PMP on a weekly basis. A majority (60%) of subjects exceeded the maximum safe exposure level on a weekly basis, suggesting that over half of subjects are at risk for NIHL from PMP use alone.

The safe use of PMPs is 85 dB for no longer than two hours per day or less in order to prevent noise-induced hearing loss that may affect communication.