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Can you hear me now?

   It's impossible to walk across a college campus, sit in an airport lounge or sip on a mocha latte at a coffee shop and avoid seeing thin, white cords hanging down from someone's ears.

   IPods and other brands of MP3 players are everywhere, and users spend hours listening to songs and podcasts or watching videos on them.

   Now audiologists are warning that people are spending too much time listening to the personal music players, at too high a volume, and as we say in our story, this could lead to hearing loss.

   A European Union scientific committee found that people who listen to MP3 players at a high volume for more than one hour per day each week are risking permanent hearing loss after about five years.

   This could affect between 5 to 10 percent of MP3 player owners, according to the EU report, or millions of people in this country alone.

   While an industry group and organizations that promote safe listening have launched an educational campaign, many iPod and MP3 player users don't seem to take the warnings all that seriously.

   Are you worried about the prevalence of MP3 players, particularly among high school-age or younger children?

   Have you ever walked past someone and heard the tune they're listening to on their ear buds?

   Should manufacturers of MP3 players do more to limit the maximum volume level on their devices, and should government step in if they won't?

   Or are concerns about hearing loss overblown and reminiscent of the unfounded fears that people who listened to boomboxes, or Walkmen or records on turntables would go deaf?

   --- Stephen T. Watson


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