So you’ve just received a new iPod - welcome to the family! More likely than not, you’re already planning to convert your CD collection or download iTunes Music Store songs, and you’re anxious to start listening with your own pair of Apple’s famous white earbuds. Of course, you’ll find virtually everything you need to start enjoying digital music inside the box.
But one thing you didn’t get with your iPod was a warning.
We’ve become accustomed to warnings - they come on cigarette packages, advertisements for wine and spirits, and many medications. Besides a note on addictiveness, which all Apple products most certainly earn, the iPod should come with a more serious advisory.
Warning: This iPod may be hazardous to your hearing.
That’s right. While the iPod offers excellent music playback functionality, most people don’t realize its potential dangers, or that they need to use it in moderation to protect their ears. Sure, if you listen to your iPod at a low volume level for short periods of time, you won’t have to worry much, but the louder you set the volume, and the longer you listen, the more chance you have of damaging your ears.
Hear Ye, Hear Ye!
Human ears are complex organs, and are quite sensitive; they have evolved to hear the softest sounds, from the rustle of a lion behind a bush in the savannah to the sound of a pin dropping in a quiet room. They can also hear the harmonics of an acoustic guitar, the subtle percussion in a jazz ensemble, and they can distinguish the pianissimo sounds of a flute among dozens of instruments in an orchestra. But assail them with heavy metal guitars, throbbing drum’n’bass music, or wailing saxophones, and they’ll get irritated. Any kind of music, if the volume is high enough, can cause hearing damage.
Most commonly, hearing problems begin as a ringing in the ears, or a feeling of fullness as though the ears are clogged. The ringing in the ears occurs when part of your hearing system becomes overexcited, and the fullness is a defense mechanism that your ears use to try and protect themselves from auditory assaults. But if you listen to too much loud music - or if you are assailed regularly by other loud sounds, such as jackhammers, leaf-blowers, lawnmowers or other machines - this damage can become permanent.
The medical name for ringing in the ears is tinnitus, and this, and other noise-induced hearing loss, occurs when the cilia, or hairs in the inner ear, become damaged from repeated loud sounds. As guitarist Pete Townshend of The Who has said, amongst many other musicians with similar complaints, “I have severe hearing damage. It’s manifested itself as tinnitus, ringing in the ears at frequencies that I play guitar. It hurts, it’s painful, and it’s frustrating.”
Under normal, quiet conditions, iPods and other portable stereos are largely safe for even extended listening. But they can be dangerous because of where you listen to them. If you listen in a quiet area, such as at home or walking in a park, you won’t need to turn the volume up very loud. But get on the subway, or walk along a noisy street, and you’ll instinctively crank it up to ensure that it is louder than the ambient noise you are trying to tune out. And that’s where the trouble begins. When music competes with other loud sounds, you lose perspective, and no longer realize just how loud the volume is; you just keep turning it up so you can hear the quiet parts.
Your Ears are Not Replaceable
It’s easy to ignore the potential for hearing damage until it’s too late, so it’s up to iPod users (and, for younger users, their parents) to take proper precautions early on. While this may sound preachy, your ears cannot be replaced, and hearing damage is permanent. If you love music, you’ll want to listen to it for your entire life; if you lose your hearing, you’ll be missing one of the greatest joys of this world. With that in mind, if you develop any of the symptoms mentioned above, see an ear specialist and have your hearing checked to make sure there is no damage. And, don’t forget, hearing aids cost a lot more than iPods and don’t look as cool.
iPod Listeners Safety Guide
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17 June 2006
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