Will personal music players be the next public health disaster for young people?

Photo credit: Elena Buzmakova(borisova) from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalitio

This article in The New York Times details ten years of regulatory dithering while millions of young people became addicted to nicotine through vaping. The health dangers of vaping were clear to many, but political considerations, lawsuits, and perhaps an early lack of clear evidence of harm led to inaction. And now young people, and a few older ones, are being sickened with several dying.

I see a similar situation developing with the widespread use of personal music players by young people.

The Sony Walkman was marketed in 1979, the iPod in 2001, and the now ubiquitous iPhones in 2007 and Androids in 2008. A large number of Americans use personal music players, and surveys find that users listen for several hours a day.  This report citing Nielsen figures says that Americans listen to music 32 hours a week!  That’s 4.5 hours every day. The World Health Organization recommends listening to no more than one hour daily, to prevent hearing loss. Other studies show that some users typically listen to music at high volumes, loud enough to drown out ambient noise.

There has been some media coverage about prolonged exposure to personal music players, but most people don’t seem to be aware of the problem.

I have communicated with the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Advertising Practices, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about what I see as a future epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss when today’s young people reach mid-life, after 30-40 years of excessive noise exposure. The CDC has begun a research program into noise and the public and undertaken educational efforts about the dangers of noise on hearing, but as with vaping devices, it’s clear to me that regulatory action is needed and that’s not something CDC does. Education can help change health behaviors, but regulation is much more effective.

Will there be media reports in 2030 or 2040 about the lost opportunity to prevent the epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss? I wouldn’t be surprised if there were.

Unfortunately, then it will be too late to prevent the epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss. The time for action is now.


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