You're riding the bus and you hear loud music behind you. When you turn around you realize that those sounds are not coming from the speaker of a radio, but from the earphones of a teenaged girl sitting behind you.
The young lady with the earphones is sitting in her seat and grooving to the tunes, happily tapping her fingers on her knees oblivious to the fact that her eardrums are slowly being damaged beyond repair.
If you think this is a tiny problem affecting a small percentage of the population, think again. According to the World Health Organization, some 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss due to the unsafe use of personal audio devices, including smartphones, and exposure to damaging levels of sound at noisy entertainment venues such as nightclubs, bars and sporting events, adding that hearing loss has potentially devastating consequences for physical and mental health, education and employment.
The recently released report went on to say according to data from studies in middle- and high-income countries analysed by WHO indicate that among teenagers and young adults aged 12-35 years, nearly 50% are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from the use of personal audio devices and around 40% 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,” notes Dr Etienne Krug, WHO Director for the Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention in the WHO website. “They should be aware that once you lose your hearing, it won’t come back. Taking simple preventive actions will allow people to continue to enjoy themselves without putting their hearing at risk.”
How loud is loud? According to The Guardian, personal music players can reach between 95 and 105 decibels (dB). Just over 105dB is equivalent to holding a chainsaw at arms length. The Dangerous Decibels campaign from the Oregon Health and Science University says that based on this evidence you'd expect to damage your hearing within 15 minutes if you used ordinary headphones with your iPod at maximum volume.
In a recent Connect Hearing article, we quoted a study for a 2005 WorkSafeBC report, that found 25% of young people entering the workforce had the early-warning signs of hearing loss, with a further 4.6% showing “abnormal” results on hearing tests.
As grim as these numbers are, they aren't a surprise. Connect Hearing has been encouraging people to visit a clinic for a free hearing test for many years for these very reasons. Connect Hearing professionals have been speaking out and warning young people of the need to take their hearing seriously – before it's too late. One of those people is Connect Hearing Oakville Hearing Consultant Vincenzo Albanese. A former musician who still plays the guitar, Albanese lives with tinnitus – a constant noise or ringing in the ears. In one of our recent posts,he said “I played in a band, a long time ago. I have ringing in my ears because of the loud music I was exposed to back in those days. It never went away. “So my message to people – especially young people - is to think about your hearing health early, be conscious of the fact that what you do today has consequences into the future.”
Jon Waterhouse, Manager of Professional Practice for Connect Hearing Canada says while the WHO report certainly isn't good news, it can have a positive impact if people heed the warning and begin taking their hearing health seriously.
“I am hopeful that this report on the issue of hearing loss will get people listening – especially parents,” says Waterhouse. “The thing about our ears and hearing loss is we don't often see it on the front page of the newspaper. Let's face it, chances are if you're walking down the street you will notice a blind person, or an individual dealing with mobility issues, sooner than you would identify a person with hearing loss. But hearing loss is an important issue and millions of people are living with it. We need to realize the impact this issue is having on our society and on our world, and I commend the World Health Organization for their work getting the word out.”
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.