Some 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss due to unsafe use of personal audio devices, including smartphones, and exposure to damaging levels of sound at nightclubs, bars and sporting events, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned.
The WHO also recommends that people should use personal audio devices for no more than one hour a day.
Data from studies in middle and high-income countries analysed by WHO indicate that among teenagers and young adults aged between 12-35 years, nearly 50 per cent, are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from the use of personal audio devices and around 40 per cent are exposed to potentially damaging levels of sound at entertainment venues.
Unsafe levels of sounds can be, for example, exposure to in excess of 85 decibles (dB) for eight hours or 100dB for 15 minutes. "As they go about their daily lives doing what they enjoy, more and more young people are placing themselves at risk of hearing loss," said Dr Etienne Krug, WHO Director for the Department for Management of Non-communicable Diseases.
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"Taking simple preventive actions will allow people to continue to enjoy themselves without putting their hearing at risk," Dr Krug said. The WHO recommends that the highest permissible level of noise exposure in the workplace is 85 dB up to a maximum of eight hours per day.
Many patrons of nightclubs, bars and sporting events are often exposed to even higher levels of sound, and should therefore considerably reduce the duration of exposure. For example, exposure to noise levels of 100 dB, which is typical in such venues, is safe for no more than 15 minutes.
They can also limit the time spent engaged in noisy activities by taking short listening breaks and restricting the daily use of personal audio devices to less than one hour.
With the help of smartphone apps, they can monitor safe listening levels. In addition they should heed the warning signs of hearing loss and get regular hearing check-ups.
To mark International Ear Care Day, celebrated each year on March 3, the WHO is launching the 'Make Listening Safe' initiative to draw attention to the dangers of unsafe listening and promote safer practices.
In collaboration with partners worldwide, the WHO will alert young people and their families about the risks of noise-induced hearing loss and advocate towards governments for greater attention to this issue as part of their broader efforts to prevent hearing loss generally.
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