THOUSANDS of young people are risking irreversible hearing damage on a daily basis by failing to turn down the volume on their iPods and MP3 players to safe levels, a Scottish charity has warned.
One-third of respondents said they had overridden the safe-level limit on their mobile music playing devices, according to the study by Action on Hearing Loss (AHL) Scotland.
The research also found two-thirds of people have been left with ringing in their ears after nights out at pubs, clubs or gigs where music is played loudly.
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Almost 50% of people, in particular young people, listen to music for up to one third of their waking day thanks to the booming popularity of iPods and MP3s.
However, one in five of those polled for the survey said they would not do anything differently despite learning of the potential dangers of hearing loss later in life, which is a possibility for the one third of those questioned who said they had overridden the safe level on their devices.
The findings have been released to coincide with Tinnitus Awareness Week.
Gemma Twitchen, AHL's senior audiologist, said: "Anyone who is exposed to loud noise for too long can be at risk and there are many who do not realise the damage they could be doing.
"If you walk down any street today, you will see a lot of people with iPods and other MP3 players. We found that many listen to their music at unsafe levels, with some even unlocking the safe limit function.
Ms Twitchen said revellers often return from clubs or gigs with a ringing in their ears, which usually disappears by the following day.
However, she warned this is a sign of over-exposure to loud noise and could lead to hearing damage.
Ms Twitchen added: "The more often this damage is inflicted, the more likely the effects will become permanent and irreversible."
Experts believe that any noise over 85 decibels can be harmful. The built-in limit to iPods is around 100dB but many people have found ways to override it.
One of the most likely effects of such over-exposure is tinnitus - a condition where the patient hears a ringing, buzzing or drone.
Tinnitus is common among music industry artists and aircraft engineers and baggage handlers exposed to the noise of jet engines.
Coldplay singer Chris Martin, former Oasis star Liam Gallagher and the American singer-songwriter Myles Kennedy have all suffered hearing problems.
Tinnitus can also cause insomnia, anxiety and lack of concentration.
Ms Twitchen added: "Effects can vary from patient to patient, but it certainly can be detrimental to someone's quality of life.
"People can become completely withdrawn from society and avoid going out with friends. Many have difficulty sleeping and some have even had to quit their jobs.
"If you can just imagine a kind of constant ringing or buzzing, then you can understand how badly it can effect someone.
"And because damage is often a gradual process, it means that it can sneak up on people and is only noticed when it is too late.
"With this in mind, it is important to be aware of the risks beforehand and take pre-emptive measures."