The prevalence of personal music (PM) system use with earphones is high among young adults. Although previous research has demonstrated that the majority of these adults may not be listening at levels or for durations considered dangerous, the long-term consequences of PM system use are not fully understood. In this report the relationship between self-reported PM use (i.e., non, light, moderate, or heavy) and peripheral auditory function as assayed through distortion product otoacoustic emission (DPOAE) components and fine structure was explored. The purpose was to evaluate the relationship between PM system use and peripheral auditory function.
One hundred and one (N = 101) young adults, 18 to 30 years of age, with normal hearing. Survey data were first obtained to determine PM system user status along with type of earphones used, most common listening volume, and most common listening duration. Once normal-hearing sensitivity was confirmed with a hearing screening, the DPOAE research protocol was administered. DPOAEs (2f1 to f2) were measured between 1 and 6 kHz with stimulus levels fixed at L1, L2 = 55,40 dB SPL and f2/f1 = 1.22. DPOAE level as well as fine-structure depth and spacing in 1/3rd octave (oct) bands around 1, 1.5, 2, 3, 4, and 6 kHz were compared across various PM system user groups. The ear-canal DPOAE was separated into the so-called generator and characteristic frequency (CF) components. The characteristics of the components were also compared across user groups.
Almost all participants reported listening to a PM system between < 1 hr/d to 3 hr/d, and 67% of the participants reported medium/comfortable as the most common volume used during a typical day. There was no significant effect of user status on 3rd oct DPOAE data, 1/3rd oct band component data, or fine-structure spacing data. Women exhibited significantly higher DPOAE as well as generator and CF component levels in the lower half of the frequency range evaluated. There were no significant gender differences for fine-structure spacing or depth. The slope of the CF component was significantly steeper in women.
In this cross-sectional study, there were no significant effects of self-reported PM use on either the ear-canal DPOAE or its constituent parts. Fine-structure depth varied across user groups in a nonsystematic manner. Women exhibited higher DPOAE and component levels in the lower portion of the frequency range evaluated. It is interesting to note that a greater proportion of men reported listening to their PM system at loud or very loud levels. The size of the effect relative to the sample size of each user group may be masking the deleterious effects of PM system use on the peripheral auditory system.