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Say what? One billion young people face risk of hearing loss. Here’s why

by Leila Salaverria

SOUND tripping is one of the favorite activities of millennials and Gen Zs, but turning up the volume on their music players and attending loud concerts may be putting them at risk of hearing loss.

A study published recently in the BMJ Global Health journal found that up to 1.35 billion adolescents and young adults worldwide could be at risk of hearing loss due to unsafe listening practices.

The study focused on individuals between 12 to 34 years old and reviewed and meta-analyzed studies on unsafe listening practices. These come from exposure to personal listening devices such as mobile phones and MP3 players, and loud entertainment venues, such as bars and clubs. 

“Results from this systematic review and meta-analysis show that unsafe listening practices are highly prevalent among adolescents and young adults and that an estimated 0.67-1.35 billion individuals worldwide could be at risk of hearing loss from voluntary unsafe recreational listening practices,” it said.

The risk of hearing loss depends on the how loud, how long, and how frequent the exposure to loud music or noise has been, it said. 

It said there have been studies indicating that repeated or even single instances of loud noise exposure may lead to physiological damage that could appear to be temporary hearing loss or acute tinnitus. These could be indicators of permanent hearing damage. 

Repeated or single exposures to noise or temporary threshold shifts have also been linked to “hidden hearing loss,” which is damage to or loss of synaptic contacts between cochlear nerve cells and auditory nerve fibers, it said. 

This could also be a predictor of permanent hearing loss and could manifest as difficulties in hearing in certain environments, such as when there is background noise, it added.

Hearing loss is bad 

Hearing loss comes with a staggering economic burden. The study said its economic costs is estimated at almost $1 trillion annually.

It also affects people’s quality of life. 

Hearing loss in children has been associated with poorer academic performance and reduced motivation and concentration, it said. 

In adults, it has been associated with poorer psychosocial well-being, lower income, and serious health conditions such as cognitive impairment. 

Tinnitus, which is a ringing, buzzing, or other sound which does not come from an external source, has also been associated with poorer quality of life. 

Listen up 

Hearing loss is a public health concern that should be recognized globally and given priority, according to the study.

It cited World Health Organization estimates that over 430 million worldwide have disabling hearing loss, and the number could increase if preventive measures are not prioritized. 

It said governments, industry, and civil society should prioritize global hearing loss prevention by promoting safe listening practices.

Take it from WHO

The WHO in 2015 launched its “Make Listening Safe” campaign, and later released global standards for safe listening devices and systems, and for safe listening venues and events.

It said an adult could safely listen to a sound level of 80 decibels for up to 40 hours a week, but for children, the level should be 75 decibels. 

But if the sound level is 90 decibels, the listening time should be reduced to four hours per week. 

Keep it down, please 

To make listening safe, the WHO recommends keeping the volume down. If people have to raise their voices to be understood, then the volume is too loud, it said. 

People could wear earplugs or wear carefully fitted and if possible, noise-cancelling headphones or earphones, it said. 

They could also take short listening breaks when going to bars and other noisy venues. 

The WHO likewise recommends moving away from loud sounds and limiting the daily use of personal audio devices. 

It stressed the importance of protecting your hearing. Once you lose it, it won’t come back.

Yes, you heard that right. 



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