Concept: No consensus exists regarding the magnitude of the risk of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) associated with leisure noise, in particular, personal listening devices in young adults.
Objective: Examine the magnitude of hearing loss associated with personal listening devices and other sources of leisure noise in causing NIHL in young adults.
Study design: Prospective auditory testing of college student volunteers with retrospective history exposure to home stereos, personal listening devices, firearms, and other sources of recreational noise.
Methods: Subjects underwent audiologic examination consisting of estimation of pure-tone thresholds, speech reception thresholds, and word recognition at 45 dB HL.
Results: Fifty subjects aged 18 to 30 years were tested. All hearing thresholds of all subjects (save one-a unilateral 30 dB HL threshold at 6 kHz) were normal, (i.e., 25 dB HL or better). A 10 dB threshold elevation (notch) in either ear at 3 to 6 kHz as compared with neighboring frequencies was noted in 11 (22%) subjects and an unequivocal notch (15 dB or greater) in either ear was noted in 14 (28%) of subjects. The presence or absence of any notch (small or large) did not correlate with any single or cumulative source of noise exposure. No difference in pure-tone threshold, speech reception threshold, or speech discrimination was found among subjects when segregated by noise exposure level.
Conclusion: The majority of young users of personal listening devices are at low risk for substantive NIHL. Interpretation of the significance of these findings in relation to noise exposure must be made with caution. NIHL is an additive process and even subtle deficits may contribute to unequivocal hearing loss with continued exposure. The low prevalence of measurable deficits in this study group may not exclude more substantive deficits in other populations with greater exposures. Continued education of young people about the risk to hearing from recreational noise exposure is warranted.