The prevalence of unsafe listening practices through headphones, earplugs and listening to loud music venues can range from 24% to 48% in young people aged 12 to 34, according to a recent study published in BMJ Global Health.
This suggests that more than 1 billion teenagers could be at risk of hearing loss.
“The results of this study demonstrate that unsafe listening is prevalent among adolescents and young adults and underscore the need to implement policy and public health initiatives to reduce unsafe listening,” said lead author Dr. Lauren Dillard to Fox News Digital.
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“This requires commitment from governments, industry and other stakeholders,” added Dillard, who is a consultant to the World Health Organization (WHO) and a postdoctoral fellow at the Medical University of South Carolina.
“Individuals should also be aware of the risks of unsafe listening and take steps to reduce their exposure to loud recreational noise when engaging in unsafe listening practices.”
According to the World Health Organization, over 430 million people around the world currently suffer from a debilitating hearing loss.
The prevalence of unsafe listening practices or the global number of young people adopting unsafe listening practices is not available in the published literature, according to the study.
The study did not directly measure hearing loss.
The researchers searched research databases for studies published in English, French, Spanish and Russian – on 12- to 34-year-olds – that reported objectively measured device output levels and exposure times from personal hearing aids (PLDs).
What is a meta-analysis?
They performed a meta-analysis, which is “an approach that allows data from multiple high-quality studies to be systematically synthesized to arrive at a single estimate or conclusion,” Dillard told Fox News Digital.
“In this study, we used a meta-analysis to estimate the prevalence of unsafe listening practices among adolescents and young adults aged 12 to 34,” added Dillard.
“Generally speaking, this gives us an estimate of the proportion of people aged 12 to 34 [who] Listening to music at a volume that is considered unsafe – and therefore putting yourself at risk of developing hearing loss.
The study defined the risk of hearing loss, she noted, based on the loudness of the sound level and how long a person listens to the sound.
Included were 33 studies involving 19,046 participants, including 17 recordings that focused on personal hearing aid use and 18 recordings that focused on noisy entertainment venues.
The study did not directly measure hearing loss.
Included were 33 studies involving 19,046 participants, including 17 recordings that focused on PLD use and 18 recordings that focused on noisy entertainment venues.
Prevalence of unsafe listening practices
“The pooled prevalence estimate of exposure to unsafe hearing from [personal listening devices] was 23.81%,” according to the study.
When the study assessed unsafe listening practices due to noisy entertainment venues, it was “more challenging to aggregate results from individual studies into a single estimate,” Dillard said.
To study the effects of noisy entertainment venues, the researchers “only evaluated studies that objectively measure sound levels and duration of exposure to noise,” she added.
“We then used mathematical models to equate the definitions of noise exposure in these studies and used that information to calculate a prevalence estimate of people exposed to loud noise from entertainment venues.”
This model, based on intensity thresholds and exposure duration, gave a prevalence estimate of 48.20%.
Over a billion young people could be at risk, although the study has limitations
Given that the estimated global population of 12-34 year olds in 2022 is approximately 2.8 billion, the study extrapolated that “the estimated global number of young people at risk of hearing loss from unsafe listening practices is between 0.67 and 0.67 was two 1.35 trillion.”
But the study “could not conclusively say how many of these individuals will develop hearing loss as a result of these unsafe listening practices,” Dillard said.
Consider turning down the volume and listening to music “for shorter periods of time.”
The study also had other limitations, including the lack of a standardized research methodology among the included studies — particularly those that focused on noisy entertainment venues.
How can young people reduce exposure to loud noises?
Dillard recommended people “listen to music at lower volumes and for shorter periods of time [and use] Noise-cancelling headphones (if available) to reduce background noise.” That way, they’re “less likely to turn up the volume to overcome loud background noise.”
She added, “Noise-canceling headphones can be beneficial because individuals don’t have to turn up the volume to overcome excessive background noise, which would result in higher noise levels.”
She also suggested using hearing protection at loud concerts and staying away from the sound source at concerts.
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“If your device says you’re listening at unsafe levels, turn down the volume and listen to music for shorter periods of time,” she added.
“If the music feels uncomfortably loud, your ears are ringing, or you have difficulty hearing anything after listening to music through headphones or attending a concert, that’s a sign the music is too loud.”
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She noted that the World Health Organization provides guidance through its Make Listening Safe initiative on its website at www.who.int/activities/making-listening-safe.