Unsafe music listening habits are endangering the hearing of up to 1.35 billion young adults worldwide, according to a study published on Tuesday.
Researchers found that many people between the ages of 18 and 34 regularly listen to music on personal headphones and in entertainment venues where the sound is too loud and for dangerously long periods of time – putting their future ear health at risk.
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The research, led by academics at the University of South Carolina, looked at data from 33 peer-reviewed studies of hearing loss involving a total of more than 19,000 people over the past two decades. The study found that young people regularly listen to music at noise levels considered dangerous and concluded that the need to promote safer listening practices was “urgent”.
Headphone users around the world often listen to music at 105 decibels, they said, and noise levels in entertainment venues range, on average, from 104 to 112 decibels. These are both higher than the recommended levels, although other factors, including the duration and frequency of the sound, are also important in determining the degree of hearing damage. Sounds at 70 decibels or below, which are in the range of normal conversation, are generally considered safe and unlikely to cause hearing loss, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“A rough rule of thumb is, if you use ear buds, take them out and keep them out of reach,” Sam Couth, an ear health researcher at the University of Manchester, told the Washington Post. “And if you can still hear the music clearly at breathing distance, it’s very loud.”
Guidance from the NIH suggests “prolonged or repeated exposure to sounds above 85 [decibels] can cause hearing loss. The louder the sound, the shorter the time required for NIHL [noise-induced hearing loss] And 85 decibels is about the sound level of a motorcycle or dirt bike.
Researchers in the study published this week estimated that between 18 and 29 percent of young people worldwide are regularly exposed to excessively loud noises from headphones, and estimated that just under half are exposed to dangerous levels in loud spaces. Using UN population data, they estimated the total number of young people worldwide at risk to range from 665 million to 1.35 billion.
It also supports research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which in a 2011-2012 study found that hearing loss from exposure to loud noise was widespread in the United States, affecting between 10 and 40 million adults under the age of 70, and described it as a “significant, often unrecognized health problem”.
Loud noises pose a threat to ear health because of the damage they cause to the outer hair cells in the cochlea, Couth said. “These cells are responsible for amplifying sounds, they help us hear things better. If they’re damaged by loud noise, they’re not going to amplify everyday sounds and we won’t be able to hear as well.” New studies also suggest that loud sounds can permanently affect the connection between inner hair cells and the auditory nerve, which transmits sound signals to the brain.
To reduce the risk, at a loud concert or music venue, experts advise standing further away from the source of the noise, taking regular breaks and – as a last line of defense – using high-fidelity earplugs designed for professional musicians. These devices have a flat, attenuated filter that allows all frequencies along the sound spectrum to reach the inner ear, unlike common earmuffs, which can affect noise by reducing higher-frequency sounds but not lower frequency.
Beyond the temporary ringing that can last a few days, the damage caused by loud noise to outer hair cells is permanent, Couth said.
“Your hearing isn’t going to come back once you lose it, so you’re going to have hearing loss for the rest of your life,” he said, warning that studies have linked hearing loss to depression and loss of livelihood. even risk of dementia. “It will have an impact on your quality of life for the rest of your life.”
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