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The World Health Organization (WHO) has noted a remarkable uptick in hearing loss, particularly among young people. Overall, 466 million persons around the world experience disabling hearing loss, amounting to 6.1% of the world’s population.
The causes of hearing loss are wide-ranging, but the WHO has targeted three main causes for their campaign: occupational, leisure, and music. By narrowing to the known causes, they have measured that 16% of disabling hearing loss is attributed to occupational noise.
When it comes to leisure- and music-related hearing loss, they have identified that 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults have put themselves at risk of hearing loss due to their unsafe use of headphones, earbuds, personal audio devices, and the amplified sound at noisy entertainment venues.
In order to respond to these striking statistics, the WHO has designated a task force called the “Make Listening Safe Workgroup.” Let’s take a look at the initiatives and recommendations of the taskforce, including their understanding of the risks for hearing loss.
Make Listening Safe Initiatives
If there is consensus about one aspect of hearing loss prevention, it is that 85 decibels of sound is the crucial threshold of risk. Many say that maintaining sound levels at 80 decibels or lower is a better approach to sustained listening, particularly in those rare contexts that might go beyond 8 hours of exposure.
As sound gets louder than 85 decibels, the amount of time it takes to incur damage gets shorter and shorter. When it comes to the first targeted cause of hearing loss—occupational noise—the WHO has been working to develop better standards. In addition, the International Standards Organization (ISO) has been advocating for limited times spent in working environments that emit loud sound, and they have also been proponents of hearing protection in the workplace.
Simply by mandating use of hearing protection, ranging from disposable foam earplugs in many situations up to more advanced noise cancelling earmuffs in very noisy workplaces, these organizations hope to see the number of people with work-related hearing loss declining with time.
In addition to these workplace initiatives, the WHO taskforce has taken on the initiative to limit the maximum output of personal sound amplification devices (PSAs). If the maximum sound threshold of audio players were set to 95 decibels, hearing damage might be prevented for many users. When listening at loud levels, hearing can be damaged in the length of a movie or a few hours of working while listening to music. It seems like a no-brainer to set an automatic volume control that would prevent this kind of damage.
However, there has not yet been universal adoption of this audio limitation. Over time, the International Technical Commission (ITC) have advocated for better standards when it comes to personal audio, but you can imagine that the designers and manufacturers of individual media players, smartphones, and other PSAs are not incentivized to protect the hearing of their users. International cooperation is necessary in this regard, making sure that not only do individuals find a way to protect their hearing but that social policy organizations do the same.
What Can You Do?
In order to join in the efforts of the Make Listening Safe Workgroup, what can you do to promote better hearing for yourself, those you love, and your broader community? The first step is to use hearing protection and to advocate for others to do the same.
Hearing protection works wonders to preserve hearing ability later in life. You can also make sure that people in your family and community are limiting the volume on PSAs and reducing the time they spend with headphones or earbuds in place. Although it can be helpful to listen to a podcast, audiobook, or music to help the working day go by quickly, a combination of high volume and extended duration can be devastating for your future hearing ability.
Particularly for children and young people, these devices can lead to premature hearing loss, so make sure to reach out to the young people in your life with this information. Although they might be resistant at first, they will thank you for your encouragement later down the line.