ANVARA AKBAROVA says she ''can't live'' without her earphones plugged in to loud music on her phone or iPod, although friends have told her she is going deaf from continuous exposure.
Ms Akbarova is one of many Australians ''binge listening'' - risking their hearing by listening to loud music for too long via headphones on their mobile phones or listening devices.
A study in progress of 1500 people aged 11 to 35 has found a significant incidence of tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, among people using mobile listening devices such as iPods, MP3s and smart phones.
Some young Australians are heading for hearing loss as a consequence, said Professor Harvey Dillon, the director of research with the government's National Acoustic Laboratories, which has been conducting the research, its first survey on the incidence of tinnitus.
Earlier research by the laboratories found between 10 per cent and 25 per cent of people were getting unsafe doses of sound from mobile listening devices.
It also found evidence of binge listening, where many young people were exposed to loud music at dance parties and on their MP3 players at unsafe levels. For example, music at loud nightclubs, live music venues and concerts averaged 98 decibels. But at only 94 decibels music can start damaging hearing after an hour. If a person could not have a conversation with someone in front of them while listening to music, the noise was potentially dangerous, Professor Dillon said.
When the Herald tried to stop Ms Akbarova on one of Sydney's busiest streets, Victoria Road, Gladesville, she couldn't hear us. ''The road was noisy so it [her iPod] was pretty loud. I didn't hear you. I saw you instead,'' she said.
When Ms Akbarova first got her iPod six years ago she was addicted. ''I used to listen to it very loud,'' she said. ''People told me I was going deaf. I had it up so loud that I couldn't hear when I talked on the phone.'' She would listen for over two hours while commuting to her job.
Ibrahim Ech, an occupational hygienist, has seen the impact of prolonged exposure to noise on call centre operators using headphones. Mr Ech, who works with Safety and Environmental Services Australia, rations his two children's use of headphones. ''I only let them use them for five to 10 minutes a day,'' he said. ''And I always monitor the volume.''
So how loud is dangerous? While the mandated safe level is 85 decibels averaged over eight hours, it was only safe to listen to loud music at the level typically found at dance parties, or at the maximum level of most MP3 players, for 15 minutes every eight hours, Professor Dillon said. In contrast, listening to an MP3 player at about 60 per cent volume all day is usually risk free.