Fears that music volume limits 'could be ignored'

Marc Nicholson Marc Nicholson's chronic tinnitus was caused by loud music in his job as a DJ

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A safety limit on volume levels which comes into force on all new personal music players this month could be ignored by 40% of young people, says a hearing loss charity.

All personal music players and mobile phones sold in the EU must now have a sound limit of 85 decibels (dB), but users can increase it to 100dB.

Action on Hearing Loss says overexposure to loud music can trigger tinnitus.

Experts say the limit is "good news".

Tinnitus is a medical term used to describe a ringing or buzzing noise that people can hear permanently in one ear, both ears or in the head.

It is often caused by exposure to loud music and can be accompanied by hearing loss.

Paul Breckell, chief executive of Action on Hearing Loss, said the new EU standard is important because increasing numbers of young people listen to music through a personal music player.

Survey results

"I urge music lovers to consider the long-term risks of overriding the safe setting as overexposure to loud music can trigger tinnitus, and remember that a good pair of noise cancelling headphones can make all the difference."

A survey of more than 1,500 16 to 34-year-olds by Action on Hearing Loss suggests that 79% of young people are unaware of new standards coming into force this month.

Although 70% of survey respondents said they would take steps to protect themselves against tinnitus, nearly 40% said they would override the new default setting on their music devices.

In October 2008, the European Commission warned that listening to personal music players at a high volume over a sustained period could lead to permanent hearing damage.

As a result, the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation (CENELEC) amended its safety standard for personal music players.

'I felt very depressed'

Marc Nicholson, 31, from Essex, is a DJ who has always loved loud music. He started playing drums at 10 and got decks at 20.

"I used to go home after a night out and my ears would be ringing. It was the sign of a good night."

But two years ago he woke up with ringing in his ears and a week later it was still there.

He was diagnosed with chronic tinnitus in his right ear.

"It gets worse when I'm stressed or tired. Sometimes I think 'How could I have done this to myself?'

"It has affected my life. The ringing is the last thing I hear going to sleep and first thing I hear in the morning."

Marc has returned to DJ-ing but now wears professional ear plugs.

"I felt very depressed for a year but I'm coping with it. Doing charity work has helped me to come to terms with it."

Now all personal music players sold in the EU after February 2013 are expected to have a default sound limit of 85dB.

The user can choose to override the limit so that the sound level can be increased up to maximum 100dB. If the user overrides the limit, warnings about the risks must be repeated every 20 hours of listening time.

The European Commission's assessment said: "Listening to music at 80dB or less is considered safe, no matter for how long or how often personal music players are used. This sound level is roughly equivalent to someone shouting or traffic noise from a nearby road."

But turning the volume control to 120dB, which is equivalent to an aeroplane taking off nearby, is exceeding safe limits, it said.

The commission said an estimated 20% of young people are exposed to loud sounds during their leisure time - a figure which has tripled since the 1980s.

An estimated 5-10% of of people in the EU are thought to be at risk of permanent hearing loss if exposed to unsafe noise limits for five years or more.

Dr Michael Akeroyd, from the MRC Institute of Hearing Research in Glasgow, said of the new EU standard: "This is good news for the volumes of personal music players. The volumes they can give has been of concern for many years, going back to at least the advent of portable cassette players."

He added that headphones can vary in quality and design.

"Few designs of headphones remove background sounds, and indeed some designs remove none. But ear-defenders or ear-plugs can remove a substantial amount of noise. Earplug design has advanced greatly in recent years."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    A young lad who walked out into the road in the dark dressed all in black with his headphones on loud was hit by a car driven by my friend a few weeks ago
    Luckily he wasn't hurt

    Police actually told him off for his behaviour & said there was nothing my friend could have done as he stepped out onto the road in front of her

    Had he not had the music quite so loud he might have been more aware

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    It is personal choice. If people want to have their music on loud then let them. And then they can pay for their own treatment when hearing defects kick in when they get older, as should all self-inflicted conditions. Their choice - they have to live with that choice. There is enough information around for people to make their lifestyle choices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    It would be nicer if they could limit the amount of sound leaking out of the headphones and *not* going in the person's ears.

    This is not about reducing harm; people will turn their music down if they find it uncomfortable. It's all about getting people used to restrictions on their freedom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Well, perhaps this might mean that my journeys into work will be slightly more pleasant without the tshk tshk tshk of peoples mp3 players playing poor music thats being played too loud through poor headphones. If the EU could ensure headphone quality so the music can only be heard by the person with the headphones in then perhaps I wouldnt want to stangle them so badly

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    For personal music players a simple rule of thumb - and the one I employ with my rock-music-fan daughter - is that if it's loud enough for someone else to hear, it's too loud!


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