Stereo headphones on the keyboard of a computer

The Medical Research Council in the UK, working with the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), have launched a mass participation study to see if listening to loud music is contributing to the increase in hearing loss in the UK population.

Figures published in the International Journal of Audiology estimated that one in six adults in the UK have at least some hearing loss, enough to cause difficulties in communicating, especially when listening in social situations with background sounds, such as other people talking. This is an increase of around 12 per cent over the past two decades, and given the ageing population, is likely to rise further, according to the researchers; ten million people in the UK have some form of hearing loss and this is expected to rise to 14.5 million by 2031. The World Health Organization has stated that the single biggest cause of preventable hearing loss is loud noise, including in the workplace and loud music.

The online experiment, funded by the Medical Research Foundation, is aimed at people of all ages and investigates their past music listening habits. Dr Michael Akeroyd, from the MRC Institute of Hearing Research, who is leading the project, said: “Many studies of music-related hearing loss have focused on musicians who may be exposed to loud music almost every day. But far less is known about the cumulative effects of loud-music listening on the hearing of the general public. The primary purpose of this project is to determine if there is such a link. “In the past 100 years or so, there has been revolution after revolution in music amplification and we can now play music for hours at levels that could be potentially damaging. A lot of MP3 players or headphones are bought …. and there’s the temptation to turn the music up loud. We want to find out if prolonged exposure to loud music really does cause hearing problems.”

The UK’s largest hearing loss charity, Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID), has long campaigned on the dangers of loud music. Chief Executive Paul Breckell said: “Damage to your hearing is irreversible – and, contrary to popular opinion, hearing loss is not a condition that only older people need to concern themselves about. With many nightclubs and concerts measuring 20 or 30 decibels above the safe noise level, more and more young people are likely to start feeling the effects of their music-loving, gig-going habits. Hearing loss not only rules out our enjoyment of music, but has the potential to lead to unemployment, isolation and has even been linked to dementia.” The experiment was produced by hearing scientists at the MRC Institute of Hearing Research in Nottingham and Glasgow, through Dr Michael Akeroyd (lead), Dr Bill Whitmer, Professor David Moore, and the NIHR Nottingham Hearing Biomedical Research Unit (NIHR Nottingham Hearing BRU) through Robert Mackinnon and Dr Heather Fortnum.