woman with freckles and wireless earphones

(© khosrork - stock.adobe.com)

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Teens and young adults are constantly in their own worlds listening to music pumping out of their headphones everywhere they go. While it may be hard to part with your beloved personal ear radios, headphones may be the cause of hearing loss. A new study warns that more than one billion young people are at risk of hearing loss partly due to the rise of headphone and earbud usage.

Scientists say their use as well as going to loud live music gigs is placing them at risk. Currently, more than 430 million people have disabling hearing loss and young people are especially vulnerable to the condition because they use loud devices.

Why do headphones cause hearing loss?

Noise regulations are also poorly enforced, the researchers add. “There is an urgent need for governments, industry, and civil society to prioritize global hearing loss prevention by promoting safe listening practices,” the authors write in their paper.

Earlier research has found people often crank up the volume on their phones, headphones and earbuds to levels as high as 105 decibels, around the same level as entertainment venues where music tends to play at between 104 and 112 decibels. These exceed the permissible level of 80 decibels for adults and 75 decibels for children, which points to headphones being a prominent cause for hearing loss.

Man listening to music while working
More than a billion young people are at risk for hearing loss from wearing headphones and earbuds, a new study warns. (© Prostock-studio – stock.adobe.com)

The researchers wanted to work out how many teenagers and young adults are listening to unsafely loud music and use those figures to estimate how many of them are at risk of hearing loss. The team trawled research databases for relevant studies published in English, French, Spanish and Russian involving 12- to 34-year-olds and reporting on objectively measured device output levels and length of exposure.

For the new study, they looked at 33 existing studies on 35 records with just under 20,000 (19,046) participants in total. Of them, 17 records focused on personal listening devices while the other 18 focused on noisy entertainment venues.

They estimated the number of youngsters worldwide who could lose their hearing by considering the estimated global population of 12- to 34-year-olds in 2022 (2.8 billion) and the best estimates of exposure to excessively loud noise, calculated from the existing literature. They found 24 percent of youngsters listen to music too loudly on their devices while 48 percent of them go to loud gigs.

Based on these figures, the team say the global number of teens and young adults who could potentially be at risk of hearing loss as a result ranges from 0.67 to 1.35 billion.

The findings are published in the journal BMJ Global Health.

South West News Service writer Gwyn Wright contributed to this report.

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