Apple sued for hearing loss due to iPod-style earbuds

Apple sued for hearing loss due to iPod-style earbuds

By Sarah Taylor

It’s a familiar sight on campus. Students walking to class with an extra spring in their steps, white cords dangling from their ears, volume cranked up. They are carrying iPods, a cultural staple in the 21st-century digital and portable age.

They are listening, but can they hear?

Two lawsuits have been brought against Apple within the last month for iPod products. The first was brought to a California court in early February against Apple for the iPod’s high volume levels, claiming they lead to hearing loss. A second suit a few weeks later alleged the iPod Nano is too delicate to withstand normal wear and tear, and is not thoroughly covered under warranty.

Michael Epstein, an audiology professor, said iPods themselves are not to blame for hearing loss.

“It’s become a cultural norm [to listen to music loudly], not just inherent with mp3 players,” Epstein said. “People are spending more time listening, and the device now has the ability to turn the level higher than previous devices.”

Freshman behavioral neuroscience major Fallon Schuler said she heard about the recent iPod issues in the press, but it hasn’t affected her behavior. She owns a 40GB iPod, and listens to music that ranges from the Dixie Chicks to Eminem.

“I don’t turn up my iPod that loud, just enough so I can hear it,” Fallon said.

Some audiologists at the Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology Department said they believe the headphones are not solely to blame.

“It’s not so much in the headphones themselves but the level in which they’re being listened to,” Northeastern Research Audiologist Candice Costa said. “Any headphone can deliver a loud sound that can be damaging over a time span.”

The first lawsuit also mentions iPod’s “earbud” headphone design as part of the problem. Because they don’t fit into the ear canal, external noises can seep in, causing users to turn up the device’s volume to compensate. Alternative headphone designs, like those that sit in the ear canal, block outside noises so users will be less likely to crank up the volume, according to the suit.

Costa said there are a host of temporary and permanent risks associated with loud music exposure, including tinnitus, in which the individual experiences ringing sounds, or the feeling that the ear is “blocked” after recent headphone use. Hearing loss occurs when tiny hairs in the ear canal are damaged from the vibrations of loud sounds.

Freshman music major Vaughn Buncamper said he’s aware of the hearing loss possibility, but hasn’t done anything about it.

“I know it probably affects me, but I don’t really care,” Buncamper said.

Epstein said concerns over hearing loss have emerged with most advancements in portable music, starting with Sony’s Walkman in 1979.

“The press portrays it as a new issue. But this basically has been in existence since headphones have been invented.

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