MUSIC lovers who listen to their iPods or MP3 players at too high a volume could be creating a tinnitus time-bomb, it has been warned.
Health experts and charities have said that there is a real danger that youngsters in particular are running the risk of incurring permanent damage to their hearing by exposing themselves to sustained loud noise.
The warning comes as part of Tinnitus Awareness Week, with the condition's leading organisation saying more funding had to be put into research the disease, which causes a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
They have also called for better training about the condition for GPs, as they anticipate more people will be coming forward with the symptoms of tinnitus in the future.
Christine Gregson, a spokeswoman for the Edinburgh and South East Scotland Tinnitus Group, said: "It is certainly a concern.
"We don't want people to stop listening to music altogether but it is important they realise that listening to it at loud levels for a period of time can cause lasting damage, including tinnitus.
"A lot of work has gone into developing headphones that are safe but look good at the same time."
A recent survey by the Royal National Institute of Deaf People (RNID) found that two-thirds of people in Edinburgh listened to their MP3 players at a dangerously high level.
The British Tinnitus Association did emphasise that exposure to loud noise was only one of the causes of the disease, which persistently affects around one in ten of the population.
There is no known cure, and cases can range from the mildly irritating to the unbearable.
While there are some measures to take, including having the ear drum taken out, very little progress has been made in treating it over the past decades.
Mrs Gregson added: "There is a lack of research funding in the UK for tinnitus and an accepted low level of knowledge among GPs about its treatment.
"Many of those diagnosed still have to struggle for help."
Isobel Shand, 85, who lives in Orchard Brae was diagnosed with tinnitus 30 years ago, and in her case it was not caused by noise, but instead as a symptom of Meniere's disease – an aural condition which affects balance.
"When you've had it for so many years you acclimatise to it because you have to, but for years it was so bad I couldn't really concentrate on doing anything," she said.
"It really affected my life, I would just start crying because of it.
"I've been involved in support groups and helplines and even knew a man who committed suicide because he couldn't bear it any more.
"I do hold out hope that there can be a cure found one day."
'You learn to live with it, as you can't fight it'
JOHN KNIGHT went out for a meal in the centre of town 15 years ago and remembers the evening for having an irritating buzzing in his ear.
Walking home along South Bridge the noise continued and hasn't stopped since.
He said: "You learn to live with it because you have to, you can't fight it."
The New Town man finds passing traffic to be one of the things that exacerbates the problem, especially if an ambulance screams past.
"Their sirens are at the same frequency as my buzzing and when they go past I often have the noise in my head for ten minutes after," he said.
"You can never give up hope of a cure, but because it isn't a painful or fatal condition, it isn't something regarded as a priority."
Tinnitus affects one in ten people persistently.
Most people have had some kind of experience of it.
It can strike regardless of age and health.
Although it usually manifests as a ringing in the ear, sufferers have also reported buzzing and hissing.
Studies have found that exposure to loud noise can trigger persistent tinnitus.
• It can also be triggered by other illnesses, such as Meniere's disease.