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The Scale and Risks of Repeated Noise Exposure

Story Highlights
  • What Exactly are Safe Sound Levels?
  • Unsafe Hearing Habits
  • The Scale of The Problem
  • The WHO’s Recommendations

New research shows that more than one billion adolescents and young adults globally can be at risk for hearing loss. In the recent study published on November 15 in the BMJ Global Health, the researchers concluded the urgent need to establish policy focusing on safe listening habits globally to promote hearing loss prevention.”

What Exactly are Safe Sound Levels?

According to the CDC, an average conversation is approximately 60 decibels, a washing machine or dishwasher is approximately 70 decibels, and heavy traffic from inside a car is approximately 80 to 85 decibels.

At higher decibel levels, the time a person can safely listen to noise decreases. For example, the period of listening safely at 92 dB is 2.5 hours; at 98 dB, it is 38 minutes; and at 101 dB, it is only 19 minutes, according to the researchers.

Unsafe Hearing Habits

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the risk of hearing loss from noise exposure depends on the loudness and duration of the exposure. Even a single, extremely loud noise can cause hearing loss, but more often, hearing loss results from repeated exposure to loud sounds over time. Young people may be risking hearing loss due to their use of personal devices for listening, such as mobile phones and portable audio players, and their participation in noisy entertainment places, according to researchers.

Teens and young adults regularly select volumes as high as 105 decibels (dB) while using personal listening devices, and the typical sound level in entertainment venues can vary from 104 to 112 dB, according to previous studies. The researchers define safe listening levels, or those unlikely to cause hearing loss, as 80 dB for eight hours per day.

The Scale of The Problem

Based on the findings over the course of this study, the researchers calculate that 670 million people in this age group (12 to 30 years old) of the 2.8 billion would be at risk for hearing loss due to the use of personal listening devices, and 1.35 billion would be at risk for hearing loss due to the attendance of loud entertainment events.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that exposure to loud noise can fatigue the ear’s sensory cells, resulting in temporary hearing loss or ringing in the ears (tinnitus). According to the WHO, repeated exposure to loud noise can cause irreversible damage to sensory cells, resulting in permanent hearing loss.

The WHO’s Recommendations

To limit this exposure risk, the WHO advises individuals to set the volume on personal listening devices to less than 60 percent of the maximum level. In addition, some smartphone apps can help monitor noise exposure and alert to harmful noise levels. More importantly, individuals should take breaks from noise exposure and use earplugs in noisy places such as entertainment venues.

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