Could modern life be making us deaf?

boy listing to music using his phone
Image caption The long-term effects of listening to amplified music are, as yet, unmeasured

UK researchers are launching a mass participation study asking people to do an online hearing test to find out if modern life has been harming our ears.

An estimated one in six adults in the UK has at least some hearing loss.

But it is not clear what role environmental factors, such as listening to amplified music, play in this.

The Medical Research Council wants people young and old to take part to answer this question.

Volunteers who go to the website will be quizzed about their listening habits and asked to complete a quick assessment of their hearing for speech in a background of noise.

If a lifetime of loud music does lead to hearing loss, the scientists expect to see a correlation between the participants' reported previous listening habits and current hearing abilities.

Over the last 100 years, advances in electronic amplification have changed how we listen to music.

Portable MP3 players have replaced the family piano and gramophone.

And in discos and clubs music is now played loud enough to be felt as well as heard.

Experts know that exposure to loud sounds can cause temporary hearing loss. But how loud and long does the exposure have to be before it begins to affect our hearing.

There is a growing concern around the more modest levels of exposure experienced on a regular basis by people who listen to music using earphones.

Dr Michael Akeroyd, from the MRC Institute of Hearing Research, is leading the project.

He 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."

Paul Breckell of the charity, Action on Hearing Loss, 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 with.

"The MRC's public experiment is such a vital piece of work to offer a robust understanding of and insight into how people stave off early loss of their hearing."

Currently approximately 10 million people in the UK have some form of hearing loss. This number is expected to rise to 14.5 million by 2031.

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