More than a billion teenagers and young adults could be at risk of hearing loss from using headphones, earplugs and attending loud concerts, researchers have warned.
The peer-reviewed results, published in the journal BMJ Global Health, say there is an “urgent need” for governments around the world to promote “safe listening” policies to protect the public’s hearing health.
Companies involved – such as those in the technology, music and events industries – must also do more to make young people aware of the risks, as data shows they are often exposed to unsafe levels of noise.
According to previous research, people tend to choose volumes up to 105 decibels when listening to music using headphones and earbuds, while the average volume in entertainment venues ranges from 104 to 112.
These are above the recommended allowable levels of 80 decibels for adults and 75 decibels for children – any higher sound is considered dangerous, even for short periods of time.
More than 30 studies of nearly 20,000 participants aged 12 to 34 were considered to find out how many people were exposing themselves to these noise levels. Analysis shows that it is prevalent globally, affecting 48 percent of adolescents and young adults.
The researchers combined this data with the estimated global population (2.8 billion) aged 12 to 34, estimating that more than 1.35 billion of them may be at risk of hearing loss.
Lead author Dr Lauren Dillard told Sky News: “It’s hard to imagine that your immediate actions will have a long-term effect on you. Hearing loss is usually something that happens gradually and gradually.
“A lot of people can relate to the feeling of going to a loud concert, ringing in the ears, maybe not being able to hear for a day or two, and then it’s resolved.
“Not many people realize that sustained exposure like this can cause permanent damage.”
Dr. Dillard of the Medical University of South Carolina is a consultant to the World Health Organization (WHO), and he urges governments and equipment manufacturers to follow its guidelines on safe noise levels.
Read more from Sky News:
Britain’s most popular password revealed
Neutron star ‘structured like a chocolate praline’
Recommendations to governments include launching public awareness campaigns on safe listening, while encouraging manufacturers to ensure their products warn users of prolonged listening at high noise levels.
“The technology used to track this has improved considerably,” said Dr Dillard, with noise notification alerts now incorporated into devices such as smartphones and watches.
“Features such as noise alerts are relatively new and it’s important to keep improving and tweaking these features.”
For entertainment venues, the World Health Organization recommends capping sound at 100 decibels, implementing active sound level monitoring to ensure compliance, optimizing acoustics and sound systems, and providing hearing protection such as earplugs and quiet zones.
Given the study’s focus on young people – and the ubiquity of smartphones and earbuds for a generation of schoolchildren – Dr Dillard said education was also key.
For more on science and technology, explore the future with Sky News at Big Ideas Live 2022.
Learn more and book tickets here