Turn it way down: WHO finds 1.1B young people at risk of hearing loss

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 Boy covering ears with hands (iStock)

“What was that?”

“Turn down your music, you’ll ruin your hearing!”

“WHAT?”

“I couldn’t hear you, my music was too loud.”

This scenario has been playing out between parents and kids for eons. But the risks for young people are higher than ever now that they can blast their music on portable devices all day.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently warned that about “1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss due to the unsafe use of personal audio devices, including smartphones, and exposure to damaging levels of sound at noisy entertainment venues such as nightclubs, bars and sporting events.”

Playing loud music has long been a rite of passage for young people. Ever since the Walkman first hit the market in 1979, music fans of all ages have been able to listen to their tunes via headphones wherever they go. Walk down the street today and it seems like most teens and young adults do nothing but listen to music. (As they simultaneously text and watch cat videos, of course.)

“Living in the electronic age, young people are experiencing preventable hearing loss at unprecedented rates,” Andrea Swinton, Executive Director of The Hearing Foundation of Canada told Yahoo Canada News in an email interview.

The WHO analyzed data from studies in middle- and high-income countries and found that among teenagers and young adults (defined as ages 12-35), nearly 50 per cent are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from the use of personal audio devices. Unsafe levels of sounds can be, for example, exposure to in excess of 85 decibels (dB) for eight hours or 100dB for 15 minutes, according to WHO.

While headphones like Beats By Dre are very popular right now, ear buds are still ubiquitous. The Hearing Foundation of Canada has this to say about the situation:

“The volume on personal music devices vary by manufacturer, and whether you use the over-the-ear headphones or the ear buds, (both) can affect the sound level that reaches the ear canal. Ear buds are extremely dangerous, as they are designed to deliver high volumes of sound in noisy environments,” wrote Swinton.

“In a perfect world, standardized volume levels, along with the discontinuation of ear buds, would surely make a significant difference on noise-induced hearing loss amongst Canadians.”

The head of the non-profit organization also suggested the government could spend more on educating us about hearing loss.

Changes mandated by government or manufacturers may never happen, so the foundation has these tips for Canadians of all ages to protect their hearing.

  • Don’t listen to music at high levels;
  • If your device has a feature that allows you to set maximum listening level, set it to three quarters of maximum volume;
  • Limit the amount of time you spend listening to music on your device;
  • And if you listen to music in noisy places, consider investing in noise-isolation or active-noise cancelling headphones.

The WHO suggests restricting the daily use of personal audio devices to less than one hour, using smartphone apps to monitor safe listening levels and getting regular hearing check-ups.

Hear that?