1bn at risk of hearing loss from music, noise – WHO

Reuters / Lucas Jackso
The unsafe use of personal audio devices and high sound volumes at events are putting over a billion teens and young adults at risk of permanent hearing loss, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Friday.

Data analyzed by the UN agency indicates that almost half the population of developed countries between the ages of 12 and 35 are exposed to unsafe levels of noise from personal audio devices, while 40 percent risk hearing damage at entertainment venues.

“More and more young people are placing themselves at risk of hearing loss,” warned Dr. Etienne Krug, director at the World Health Organization's Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention.

Potential hearing loss has been linked to both sound volume and the duration and frequency of exposure. While a noise level of 85 dB can be safe for up to eight hours a day, an audio device at maximum volume registers at 105 dB, and is safe for just four minutes. A loud concert at 120 dB stops being safe after 28 seconds, while sirens or vuvuzelas – South African trumpets that became notorious during the 2010 FIFA World Cup – threaten hearing loss after just nine seconds.

“Once you lose your hearing, it won’t come back,” warned Krug.

Individuals, venues, and governments have all been urged to take steps towards preventing hearing loss. The WHO has urged governments to organize public information campaigns, and develop and enforce “strict legislation on recreational noise.” Managers of entertainment venues such as bars, clubs, and concert halls are advised to use sound limiters, issue earplugs, and set aside “chill-out rooms” for patrons. Individuals can prevent hearing loss by turning down the volume on their audio devices, and by using “carefully fitted, and if possible, noise cancelling” earphones.

The WHO estimates that 360 million people around the world suffer from disabling hearing loss, citing exposure to excessive noise as one of the leading causes after injury and infectious disease. The report comes on the eve of International Ear Care Day, marked annually on March 3.

The WHO-recommended safe listening times are:

85 dB (the level of noise inside a car) – eight hours

90 dB (lawn mower) – two hours and 30 minutes

95 dB (an average motorcycle) – 47 minutes

100 dB (car horn or underground train) – 15 minutes

105 dB (music player at maximum volume) – four minutes

115 dB (loud rock concert) – 28 seconds

120 dB (vuvuzela or sirens) – nine seconds