Turning down the bat isn’t just for angry parents — a new study has shown it could protect more than 1 billion people at risk of hearing loss.
When it comes to phones, music, movies, and shows, it’s common for teens and young adults to listen loudly and for too long the study published Tuesday in the journal BMJ Global Health.
“We estimated that 0.67 to 1.35 billion people aged 12 to 34 worldwide are likely to engage in unsafe listening practices” and are therefore at risk for hearing loss, study lead author Lauren Dillard said via email . Dillard is an advisor to the World Health Organization and a postdoctoral fellow at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Excessive exposure to sound can tire the sensory cells and structures in the ear, Dillard said. If this goes on for too long, they can be permanently damaged, resulting in hearing loss, tinnitus, or both.
Researchers conducted a meta-analysis of scholarly articles on unsafe listening practices published in three databases between 2000 and 2021, the study said.
According to the study, the unsafe practices were tracked through the use of headphones and visiting entertainment venues such as concerts, bars and clubs.
That US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention limits safe noise levels to around 85 decibels for 40 hours a week. If you listen for just 2½ hours in a day, that’s about 92 decibels, according to the study.
Hooked up to a smartphone loaded with MP3 audio files, listeners often choose volume levels of up to 105 decibels, and venues often range from 104 to 112 decibels, the study found.
Fortunately, policies, companies, and individuals can take steps to promote safe hearing and protect hearing from damage over time, Dillard said.
Analysis of the study was rigorous, and the evidence is compelling that hearing loss should be a public health priority, said De Wet Swanepoel, a professor of audiology at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. Swanepoel was not involved in the study.
“Music is a gift to be enjoyed for a lifetime,” said Swanepoel, who is also the editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Audiology. “The message is to enjoy your music, but safely.”
Whether on your own device or at a concert, Dillard cautioned that ringing in the ears is a good sign the music was too loud.
However, there are ways to prevent the damage before you notice the effects. Some devices allow people to monitor their hearing levels in the device settings, she said. Some will even warn you if you’ve been listening too loud for too long.
“If your device says you’re listening at unsafe levels, turn down the volume and listen to music for shorter periods of time,” Dillard said via email.
Experts can’t conclusively say which headphones are safest for listening, Dillard said, but she did recommend using headphones that reduce background noise, which can help keep volume at a lower level as you hear the sounds around you don’t have to drown out.
But you don’t always have control of the volume slider. If you’re at a noisy concert or venue, you can protect your hearing by moving further away from the speakers and taking breaks from the noise when possible, Dillard said.
And it always helps to use hearing protection — even the foam ear tips will do, she added.
“Hearing is the sense that connects us to the people we love,” Swanepoel said in an email. “Taking care of our hearing is key to maintaining healthy relationships and overall health and well-being. Primary prevention in young adults is critical to avoid earlier onset and accelerated age-related hearing loss.”