Gamer Playing With Headset

Someone playing video games on a PC (Photo by ELLA DON on Unsplash)

🔑 Key Findings:

  • Video game consoles can produce sound spikes up to 119 decibels
  • Prolonged sound over 85 decibels can cause hearing loss
  • Over 10 million gamers in the U.S. may be at risk

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Gamers are at risk of going deaf or developing tinnitus because of excessively loud sound levels on their gaming consoles, medics warn. Researchers say that sound levels coming from gaming consoles can spike to short bursts of 119 decibels, equivalent to the noise of a bulldozer or motorbike.

Frequently, these sound levels are close to, or exceed, safe limits, with the highest levels reaching around 89 decibels, similar to the noise of a vacuum cleaner, food blender, or people shouting. Prolonged exposure to anything over 85 decibels can lead to hearing loss or tinnitus.

This conclusion comes from an analysis of evidence involving 50,000 people worldwide. Experts from the World Health Organization and the Medical University of South Carolina are calling for increased public health efforts to make people aware of these risks.

While there have been numerous studies on music venues, headphones, and earbuds in relation to music, less attention has been paid to video games and e-sports. Gamers often play for hours with high-intensity sound levels, potentially causing hearing damage among the world’s three billion gamers.

The team reviewed existing studies from nine countries across North America, Europe, Southeast Asia, Asia, and Australasia, involving a total of 53,833 people. Some games feature “impulse bursts” of sound lasting less than a second but reaching 119 decibels. Permissible exposure limits for sound are around 100 dB for children and 130–140 dB for adults.

person using computer playing FPS game
Researchers say sound levels in gaming consoles can spike to short bursts of 119 decibels, equivalent to the noise made by a bulldozer or motorbike. (Credit: Photo by Sean Do on Unsplash)

In the examined studies, one reported that over 10 million people in the United States might be exposed to “loud” or “very loud” sound levels from video or computer games. Another large observational study linked video gaming with increased odds of self-reported hearing loss severity.

Six studies focused on the prevalence of video gaming among young people, which ranged from 20 to 68 percent. Two studies from South Korea reported around 60 percent prevalence of gaming center use. Another two studies linked school pupils’ gaming center use with increased odds of severe tinnitus and high-frequency hearing loss in both ears.

One study measured the sound levels of five video games through headphones attached to the gaming console, finding averages of 88.5, 87.6, 85.6, and 91.2 dB for four separate shooter games, and 85.6 dB for a racing game.

“Although the data provided in this review are limited, they suggest that some gamers, particularly those who play frequently, and at or above the average sound levels described by papers included in this review, probably exceed permissible sound exposure limits, and are thus engaging in unsafe listening practices, which could put them at risk for developing permanent hearing loss and/or tinnitus,” says Dr. Lauren Dillard from the Medical University of South Carolina’s Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery in a media release.

The team also notes gaps in the studies regarding geographic region, sex, and age, suggesting the need for further research.

“The findings suggest that there may be a need to prioritize interventions, such as initiatives focused on education and awareness of the potential risks of gaming, that can help promote safe listening among gamers,” adds Dr. Shelly Chadha of the World Health Organization’s Department of Non-communicable Diseases.

The study is published in the BMJ Public Health.

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South West News Service writer Jim Leffman contributed to this report.

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