World Health Warning To Turn Down The Music

Research shows more headphones and loud concerts and clubs are causing an epidemic of hearing damage

This photo provided by Beats by Dr. Dre shows Beats Studio Wireless plush set of over-ear headphones that almost exactly mirror Beats' popular Studio line, updated this summer, but comes with wireless ability. It's an outstanding way to bliss out during a noisy commute or wander around your home with music in your head. (AP Photo/Beats by Dr. Dre)

(WTNH)  Warnings to turn down loud music are certainly nothing new.  I remember my father popping by my bedroom quite often in my teenage years, urging me in the strongest terms possible to ease back on the volume, or as he phrased it, “Turn down that G– D— noise!”

Now the World Health Organization has basically issued the same warning, albeit in more polite, research-friendly terms.  The WHO just released a report in which researchers found that among subjects tested between ages 12 and 35, nearly half are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from headphones, concerts, and club music.

There have been lots of studies over the years about too-loud noise in the workplace, but until now, surprisingly little about what the website SBS Sky called “leisure-based noise.”  But since the advent of the iPod and other .mp3 players, and the more recent turn to higher-end headphones, audiologists say they’re seeing more and more young people with significant hearing loss.

One of the recommendations from the report is simple: turn it down.  The rule of thumb remains that if the person next to you can hear your headphone music, it’s probably too loud.  But interestingly, how long you listen is also a key factor.  The WHO report recommends listening to loud music on headphones for less than an hour a day.

Going to rock concerts in my younger years used to leave me with a ringing in my ears for a day or so.  But as I got older, the ringing lasted longer.  That condition, when it becomes chronic, is called tinnitus, and people who have it unanimously say it is no fun.  Rock stars themselves, back in the day when stage monitors faced them, cranked to the max so they could hear themselves over the crowd and PA system, have a high rate of hearing damage.  Pete Townshend of The Who has long suffered from severe tinnitus.  Phil Collins gave it as one of the reasons he retired from live performances several years ago.  More sophisticated digital stage sound systems, which give performers earpieces to hear themselves, have helped.  But for many performers, the damage is done.

The WHO report aims at keeping young listeners from the same fate.  But it goes beyond headphones and .mp3 players.  Nightclubs typically play music at a level researchers said is safe for only 15-minutes.  One of the aims of the study is to help venues design sound systems that are better modulated and equalized (I’ve always said that one of the first signs of getting old is when you go from describing a club as “totally rockin'” to “way too loud.”).

But I’ve been lucky.  I’ve listened to loud rock music every way possible for decades, and my hearing still tests fine (I’ve always joked I do it to drown out the voices in my head, a line my wife doesn’t find nearly as funny as I do).  In fact, here’s an excuse to once again gratuitously show you a picture of me and my rock star man-crush James Hetfield from Metallica.

jim and james

If listening to Metallica causes hearing loss, than hearing loss I will endure!

But young people, don’t do as I do, do as I say.  Or do as the World Health Organization and Dad say: turn down that damn noise!


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