Johannesburg – Headphones, earbuds and loud music venues are potentially placing more than a billion teens and young adults at risk of losing their hearing.
This is according to a study that appeared in the journal BMJ Global Health.
These teens and young adults, the researchers said, were particularly vulnerable to recreational noise induced hearing loss, through the use of personal listening devices (PLDs), such as smartphones, headphones and earbuds.
Previous studies have shown that users of PLDs often choose to push up volumes to as high as 105 decibels where suggested permissible levels are 80 decibels for adults and 75 for children, even for short periods of time.
“Increased exposure to unsafe listening practices may be one cause of the increasing prevalence of hearing loss in children,” the authors state in the paper.
Loud noise, it has been found, is harmful to the inner ear,with even one time exposure to extremely loud sounds can cause hearing loss.
The WHO estimates that over 430 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss.
To work out how many young people globally could be exposed to hearing loss the researchers trawled databases for studies that involved 12-34 year olds and measured device use, volume levels and lengths of exposure. In total there were 35 studies involving 19 046 participants.
Of these , 17 studies focused on PLD use while 18 examined loud entertainment venues.
The global number of 12-34 year olds was estimated to be 2,8 billion. The data analysis suggested that the prevalence of unsafe listening practices of PLDs was at 24% of this total. And unsafe noise levels at loud entertainment venues to be 48%.
This then tallied to a range of between 0.67 to 1.35 billion teens and young adults who could be at risk of hearing loss.
They do, however, say that “evidence showing consistent associations of adolescent recreational noise exposure and permanent hearing loss is sparse”.
As with the rest of the world it is not known the extent of hearing loss caused by PLDs in South Africa.
Last year research done by the University of Pretoria found a way of measuring the effect of loud noises on an individual’s hearing. They called it a “fitbit for your ears,” where high quality earphones had a small microphone fitted so as to allow sound exposure to be measured in the inner ear.
It is believed this research could assist in promoting healthy listening behaviour.
Professor De Wet Swanepoel of UP’s Department of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology, who led the study, offers some tips on how to protect your ears.
He suggests listening to personal audio devices at a level of below 60% of the maximum volume.
Wear earplugs in noisy venues and move away from sources of loud sound, like loudspeakers.
Swanepoel also suggests taking short listening breaks away from loud sounds and limiting the daily use of personal audio devices.
And use devices with built in safe listening features.
With the study that appeared in the BMJ Global Health, the researchers hope it will highlight the need to protect a generation from hearing loss.
“There is an urgent need for governments, industry, and civil society to prioritise global hearing loss prevention by promoting safe listening practices”, they stressed in the paper.