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Scientists in Europe are warning that popular MP3 players and cell phones could cause permanent hearing damage to some users. The digital audio devices, similar to the personal CD players of yesteryear, are popular among teenagers and are common holiday gifts.

The study, sponsored by the European Commission, found that permanent hearing loss could result after only five years of listening to music too loud for five hours per week. While teenagers are at the greatest risk of injury, all users could be affected. In 2006, a Louisiana man filed a class-action lawsuit against Apple, alleging that the company should have taken steps to warn users of the risk of high-decibel audio output and taken steps to reduce the risk associated with its popular iPod media devices. Apple was also forced to pull early iPods from retailers’ shelves in France because the audio output exceeding governmental regulations.

Hearing loss is just the latest danger to be associated with MP3 players and cell phones. Electronic devices can be a major distraction to drivers who attempt to use them on the road. The dangers of cell phone use and texting while driving are well-documented, but the use of MP3 players has received relatively little attention. This is a bit of a surprise, considering the vast array of vehicle adapters and other car-related accessories for these common devices.

Used prudently, MP3 players are a great toy for people of all ages. If you intend to give one as a gift this year, make sure you remind your loved one to keep the volume down so they can enjoy their music for years to come.

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