Can you hear me now?

(U-WIRE) SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Kaitlin Struble sits in a computer lab surrounded by iPod-clad students. Her classmates listen to music while walking through the quad, checking e-mail, running on the treadmill, waiting for the bus, waiting for class.

She’s one of them, too. But for a moment she removes her headphones — to make an admission about her generation’s iPod toting ways. “It’s probably bad,” the senior advertising major said.

The Apple iPod and other MP3 players are ubiquitous on college campuses and a staple in the lives of their users worldwide. Despite evidence showing it is harmful to hearing, most college students don’t care enough to kick their careless iPod habits and prevent subsequent hearing loss.

Joe Pellegrino, a professor in the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, has a no-nonsense solution to the problem.

“It’s permanent,” Pellegrino said. “Either turn the iPod down or deal with the hearing loss.”

Too much exposure to sound from any source above 85 decibels can result in hearing loss, according the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) Web site.

The maximum decibel level on an iPod has been found to measure between 100 and 115 decibels, equal to a football game in a loud stadium, which can cause hearing damage after just 15 minutes, according to a Washington Post article from Jan. 17, 2006.

In France, Apple, by law, cannot sell iPods that go louder than 100 decibels.

But iPod volume isn’t measured in decibels. Instead, volume is represented by an inconsistent low-to-high scale. Consumers don’t know what constitutes ‘too loud.’ And even those who do know often resist the warnings.

Temporary hearing loss can occur after attending a loud concert. In that case, hearing is usually restored within a day or two. But subjecting one’s ears to hearing loss like that every day will inevitably lead to permanent damage.

“Frankly, even when you blow-dry your hair or use a blender, you’re supposed to use earplugs, but no one does. Imagine that,” Corinne Law, a junior audiology major, said.

And yet students pump music directly into their ears every day. Apple warns users to listen responsibly with a section on their Web site dedicated to sound and hearing, and documentation within iPod packaging.

The Web site reads, “Most research about noise-induced hearing loss has focused on prolonged exposure to loud sounds in industrial workplaces.

While not as much research exists regarding the effect of recreational exposure to loud sound, if you listen to music and audio with headphones or earbuds… you should follow a few common-sense recommendations.”

The recommendations Apple supplies are limited to “think about the volume” and “keep track of time.”

Both are rules sophomore Andrew Lundgren follows. The marketing and entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises major keeps his iPod pumping around 60 percent of full-volume level. Lundgren said he knows he shouldn’t play music louder than that or listen for longer than an hour at a time. “I try not to,” he said.

Sam Kauff acknowledged he has no idea how to read or measure decibels. The sophomore communications and rhetorical studies major sports Apple iPod In-Ear Headphones he received as a gift. Unlike the standard iPod headphones, these block out surrounding noise, so users don’t have to increase the volume to hear the music.

Sony makes similar headphones. Senior advertising major Katie Osterdahl wears them while she listens to her MP3 player.

“I’m really paranoid about destroying my hearing,” she said. Osterdahl keeps her volume set to level three (out of 20) when it’s quiet in the Newhouse computer labs.

But not all students are like Osterdahl.

The warnings don’t faze senior sport management major Emmanuel Fernandez, who wears the standard iPod headphones.

“I’ve heard about iPods being detrimental to your hearing,” he said, “but I don’t pay attention.”

Carrying an iPod is a fashion statement alone, but the headphones, the only part visible — popping out from under hats and up from inside coats — make a statement, too. Larger non-insert headphones covering the entire ear also cause less damage than the standard iPod headphones, because the music projects outward and not directly into the ear. But those “tend to be old fashioned,” Fernandez said.

Barbara Miller wouldn’t agree with Fernandez’s reasoning. Miller, a program assistant at the Hearing Loss Association of America, can’t fathom why the young people she talks to at church don’t grasp the harm they are doing to their bodies by turning up the music.

“There’s not a whole lot that we can do unless they actually listen,” she said.

Miller said the Association works mostly with people who already have hearing problems, like the veterans of war who suffer hearing damage from bombs blasting close to their ears.

Back then, she said, people didn’t know the risks of standing too close to a speaker or mowing the lawns without earplugs. People of this generation do, but “they just don’t understand until they get older, and it’s too late,” she said.

With no immediate threat, students don’t have much reason to stop. Hearing loss often goes unnoticed because it happens at a gradual pace, Pellegrino said.

“You get used to your hearing getting worse, it takes a while before you realize you’re doing damage,” he said.

Pellegrino said it’s never too early to notice signs of hearing loss. Students may even notice they miss clarity of others’ speech during dining hall conversation.

“You hear them speaking, but you don’t get what they’re saying the first time,” he said.

And it’s a cycle, too, turning the television just a little louder, the radio, the video game, the iPod, because it’s hard to hear, only furthers the damage.

Law, self-described as more conscious than her fellow students at Syracuse University about surrounding noise levels, because it’s her interest, admitted she listens to music on her own iPod louder than a blow-dryer.

She said changing is not that easy. “We like listening to loud music, watching movies ‘movie-theater’ loud,” she said of her generation. “It’s just accidental, I guess, for most people.”

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