media release

study: how intensively people listen to music

Staefa, Switzerland, November 25, 2010

91 percent of German teenagers listen to music on MP3 players and cell phones, and eleven percent of these do so for more than three hours a day. A further eleven percent listen to their music cranked up to the highest possible volume. These are just some of the results from an international study conducted by Hear the World, which offers striking evidence of how intensively young people in particular – but many adults as well – listen to music through earphones. The majority of the people surveyed are aware of the potential negative implications of this on their hearing. Just how serious the consequences can be, especially for young people, is demonstrated in research carried out by the health insurance company DAK, which shows that the number of children and young people covered by insurance who have been prescribed a hearing instrument since 2005 has risen by 38 percent.

As part of an international study, Hear the World, a global initiative set up by the leading hearing instrument manufacturer Phonak, surveyed over 4,400 people aged between 14 and 65 in Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the USA, asking them about their listening habits. An overview of some of the results is given below:

  • Ten percent of the Germans surveyed listen to music on MP3 players and cell phones on a daily basis. The world leader in this respect is the USA, with 18 percent, followed by the UK with 16 percent.
  • Amongst the German teenager category, 36 percent listen to music on MP3 players and cell phones every day. The front-runners here are the young people of Italy, 52 percent of whom enjoy listening to music in this way, followed by those in Switzerland with 46 percent.
  • More than 80 percent of the Germans surveyed listen to music at over 50 percent of the maximum possible volume, with six percent of these listening at full volume. Amongst German teenagers in particular, eleven percent crank up the volume on their MP3 players and cell phones as far as it will go.
  • The average daily time spent using MP3 players or cell phones to listen to music amounts to more than an hour for over half of the Germans surveyed, rising to more than three hours for eleven percent of the German teenagers.

Serious health risks

An increasing number of young people are affected by hearing loss today – a trend that is continuing upward. Experts attribute this development to a significant increase in our use of media, as well as a general rise in noise levels in our everyday lives. “For young people today, MP3 players are simply a part of life. The problem is that they often exceed a sound level of >90 dB, and any level upward of this can cause long-term damage to hearing,” explains Professor Patrick Zorowka, Head of the Universitätsklinik für Hör-, Stimm- und Sprachstörungen (university clinic for hearing, voice and speech disorders) at the University of Innsbruck. “Your sense of hearing doesn’t have the chance to recover after exposure to excessively loud noise and not enough of a break between periods of noise exposure. Most people are aware that loud music can damage hearing. What they often fail to realize, however, is that hearing damage is irreversible – regardless of age.”

Aside from the long-term impact, which only becomes apparent after a few years, the first consequences for health are now already starting to emerge. Research carried out by the health insurance company DAK shows that the number of children and young people covered by insurance who have been prescribed a hearing instrument since 2005 has risen by 38 percent. On a global scale, the WHO estimates that there are 170 million children who rely on a hearing aid to ensure that their hearing and speech can develop normally.

Enjoying music sensibly, using the 60/60 rule

One thing is clear: listening to music on MP3 players and cell phones has long since ceased to be a trend and has now become a part of everyday life across all age groups. Now, in the run-up to Christmas, many parents will once again be finding requests for MP3 players on their children’s Christmas lists. Parents are therefore required to explain to their children how they should handle MP3 players and music-playing cell phones – and therefore their hearing too – in a responsible way. “Hearing damage is particularly likely to occur if music is played too loudly or listened to for too long at a time. Anyone who wants to protect themselves against hearing loss later on should, as a rule of thumb, listen to music for no longer than 60 minutes a day and at a volume no higher than 60 percent of the maximum volume that can possibly be reached on an MP3 player. General exposure to noise in everyday life naturally plays a part in this too: people who are exposed to loud noise at work or traffic noise, for example, should allow their hearing more time to rest accordingly,” says Professor Zorowka. Choosing the right earphones can also make a significant contribution towards protecting hearing. High-quality models suppress ambient noise effectively, thus enabling the listener to enjoy music at lower volumes – which leads to less strain on their hearing.

In addition to its work on preventing hearing loss, Hear the World is committed to educating children, young people and adults about the importance of good hearing. Furthermore, Hear the World regularly provides information about the causes of hearing loss and how to deal with it, as well as about technological solutions. The initiative has a website, www.hear-the-world.com, where comprehensive information could be found relating to good hearing, hearing impairments and their corresponding solutions. A panel of experts made up of leading Ear-Nose-Throat specialists and hearing care professionals also provides answers to questions on the issues of hearing and hearing loss.