The growing popularity of portable music players and other items that attach directly to the ears - including cell phones - is contributing to hearing loss in younger people. Hearing specialists are seeing more people in their 30s and 40s - many of them among the first Walkman users - who suffer from pronounced tinnitus, an internal ringing or even the sound of whooshing or buzzing in the ears. Usually, however, they have lost the ability to hear higher frequencies, evidenced at times by mild ear-ringing or trouble following conversations in noisy situations.
A survey published in 2005 by Australia's National Acoustic Laboratories found, for instance, that about 25 percent of people using portable stereos had daily noise exposures high enough to cause hearing damage. Research by Britain's Royal National Institute for Deaf People determined that young people, ages 18 to 24, were more likely than other adults to exceed safe listening limits.