In what could be the start of another possible installment of “Bloomberg knows best,” the New York mayor and New York City officials soon may be asking citizens to turn down those Beats or Skullcandy headphones and listen up.
They want to make sure music listeners can hear something like this: There are dangers involved in listening to loud music.
“The Health Department is aiming to better inform and educate New Yorkers about ways to protect hearing from exposure to loud sounds,” the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said in a statement sent to ABC News. “With public and private support, a public education campaign is being developed to raise awareness about safe use of personal music players and risks of loud and long listening.”
The program is still in the very early stages of development and the final cost and scope of campaign are still unknown, according to Chanel Caraway, deputy press secretary for the Health Department.
Early information characterizes the city’s newest paternal undertaking as an educational campaign, though Mayor Bloomberg has become nationally known partly through his advocacy of bans on unhealthy behavior – probably the most famous of which have been his efforts to ban smoking in parks and bars and his ban on the sale of large sodas.
Now, it’s possible that city officials have also taken a look at research showing the negative effects of piping loud music into your ears throughout the duration of your New York commute.
A Johns Hopkins School of Medicine study from 2011 concluded that one in five individuals older than 12 suffer from hearing loss “severe enough to hinder communication.”
“You don’t see the effects of true hearing loss for several years,” said Dr. Frank Lin, assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins University, who led the research. “It’s hard to say how much the ears will be affected from iPods and such. It’s certainly not going to help your hearing, but we just don’t know how much it’s going to hurt it.”
On the prospects of rolling out an education program to help prevent this kind of hearing damage, Dr. Sean McMenomey, director of otology at New York University, said it could be good news. McMenomey, who specializes in hearing aid fittings and cochlear implants, told ABC News, “Prevention is always the best way.”
“Very loud noise or sound, even if only for a split second, can cause damage, but even lower-duration sounds, if exposed long enough, can cause sensory-neural hearing loss,” McMenomey said. “This is what the mayor is trying to educate the public about.”
When the damage is done, it’s permanent, according to McMenomey.
“The hearing loss can be with these kids for 70 to 80 years,” he said.
McMenomey suggested that music stay below 80 dB. Though not all portable music devices display the dB output information, some devices, such as Apple’s iPhone, have built in volume limiters. McMenomey suggested users implement such limiters when possible.
The earbud vs. over-the-ear headphone choice is also tricky. While a type of earbud that fits snuggly in the ear like Apple’s EarPods may allow a listener to enjoy the music at a lower volume, McMenomey said, there is also the possibility of suffering from an obstructed ear canal – the blockage of the ear canal by collection of earwax – though that is not a common result.
“One thing is for sure,” said McMenomey. “If you’re hearing someone else’s music through their earbuds, their music is too loud.”