In a new BMJ Global Health study published on Tuesday, researchers warn that more than 1 billion teenagers and young individuals might be at the risk of hearing loss — all thanks to their regular use of earbuds, headphones, and choosing to attend extremely loud concerts or music venues.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 430 million people worldwide have varying levels of hearing loss. The WHO also warns that if governments fail to prioritize hearing loss prevention among the masses, its prevalence might double in the future. The WHO has attributed the exposure of loud noises to personal listening devices such as mobile phones and also visiting clubs, bars, discotheques, and other loud venues.
“Recurrent or even single instances of unsafe listening may cause physiological damage to the auditory system, presenting as transient or permanent tinnitus and/or changes to hearing,” the researchers wrote in their study.
“Damage from unsafe listening can compound over the life course, and noise exposure earlier in life may make individuals more vulnerable to age-related hearing loss,” they added.
If this public health issue is neglected, studies have found hearing loss could result in significant economic losses as well. The WHO estimated those losses at close to $1 trillion annually.
While the permissible levels of noise exposure for adults is 80 dB and 75 dB for children, studies have revealed that young people who use personal listening devices opt for volumes that are as high as 105 dB. Whereas the noise exposure in music venues and clubs can go up to 112 dB.
To gain a better understanding of listening habits among young adults, the team of researchers delved into databases compiled from 33 global studies that included over 19,000 participants. The studies were published in different languages including English, Russian, French, and Spanish. The participants were in the 12 to 34 years old age bracket and tracked their use of personal listening devices.
The researchers found that the prevalence of exposure to unsafe listening from personal listening devices was almost 24% and the global prevalence of hearing loss caused by young people’s devices could be anywhere between 0.67 to 1.35 billion.
“These findings highlight the urgent need to implement policy focused on safe listening habits worldwide in order to promote hearing loss prevention,” the researchers wrote.