The European Union has launched a research study into the health risks of personal music players.

The study, by the EU's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) will aim to identify the acceptable level of noise, "taking into account the intensity, length and number of exposures to users of personal music players and mobile phones with the same function."

It will also look at potential risks posed by other gadgets including mobile phones, with a particular focus on how such devices can affect the user's hearing.

Although the results of the study -- due to be completed by next March -- will not directly affect legislation, the study will examine whether the current EU laws and European standards offer enough protection.

"The health effects of exposure to noise have been known for a long time, in particular noise-induced hearing damage such as irreversible hearing loss and impairment," the European Commission said in its instructions to the SCENIHR. "Hearing loss appears to accompany ageing, but noise-induced hearing damage can be prevented to a large extent by reducing exposure time and levels."

A recent study by the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) found that personal music players can have a temporary negative effect on implantable pacemakers. The MHRA advised that patients could use such equipment providing it is not placed directly over the pacemaker or defibrillator.

And in 2005, France amended its laws to prevent users of personal audio equipment from suffering long term hearing impairment: in addition to the maximum pressure and voltage requirements prescribed in the two harmonized standards, it required information and/or labeling for the end user.

The current European regulatory framework on the safety of this equipment includes the 1999 EU Radio and Telecommunications Terminal Equipment Directive (on the health and safety aspects of radio equipment, including mobile phones); the 1995 EU Low Voltage Directive (on the health and safety of electrical equipment); the 2001 EU General Product Safety Directive (on all consumer products); and the European Harmonized Standard on audio, video and similar electronic apparatus (which provides technical detail to ensure the safety of users of personal music players with headphones or earphones, including maximum pressure level and maximum voltage outputs, but no specific labeling demands on noise emissions).