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The World Health Organization was established on April 7th in 1948 by the United Nations—that date is now commemorated as World Health Day. The organization was established by the UN to coordinate and direct international health. This means that they serve as a leading authority on issues that are of critical health importance. They also play a central role in shaping research into and creating awareness around important health issues.
One of the issues that the World Health Organization has dedicated itself to is healthy hearing. The organization has been paying particular attention to creating awareness around healthy hearing habits for young adults and teenagers. Their “Make Listening Safe” campaign provides a lot of great information about hearing health and hearing safety, and provides tips for avoiding the negative consequences of noise-induced hearing loss.
The Prevalence of Hearing Loss
One of the perhaps most surprising—if not alarming—facts about hearing health across the globe is that there are 1.1 billion young people who are at risk for hearing loss as the result of unsafe listening practices. Apart from this, there are over 43 million people between the ages of 12 and 35 years old who currently live with disabling hearing loss. In industrialized countries including the United States and those in Europe, noise-induced hearing loss has a particular and definable culprit: headphones. In fact, the World Health Organization reports that nearly 50% of young people—those between 12 and 35 years old—listen to unsafe levels of sound through their headphones. In-hear headphones (otherwise known as earbuds) can be particularly damaging to hearing levels. These headphones have a soft rubber cup that is inserted into the ear canal. Audiologists generally agree that sounds over 85 decibels can cause hearing loss—earbuds placed closely to your ear drum and can increase the sound by upwards of 9 decibels.
Another trouble area when it comes to noise-induced hearing loss are music and club venues. 40% of 12-35 year olds in middle- and high-income countries experience potentially damaging levels of hearing loss when they are out at bars and nightclubs—but also sporting events.
Recognizing the Signs of Hearing Loss
There are several signs of hearing loss, noise-induced and otherwise. Of course one of the biggest signs is difficulty hearing. There are subtler signs as well, however. One is difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds. People experiencing hearing loss may also have a ringing in the ears, called tinnitus. Tinnitus also sometimes presents as whirring, clicking, and buzzing sounds that only the person experiencing it can hear. One of the more difficult signs of hearing loss to parse out has to do with speech. Some people experiencing hearing loss may be able to hear a given person they are having a conversation with, but they find it difficult to distinguish the actual words that person is saying. This is exacerbated when having conversations over the phone or when having conversations in places where there are a lot of other sounds, such as in a restaurant where many conversations are being staged, where music may be playing, and where there are the sounds of dishes, glassware, and silverware clinking.
Preventing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
There are many things people of all ages can do to prevent noise-induced hearing loss. The first step is simply awareness of the scenes and sites you encounter where there may be loud sounds. These are sometimes unsuspecting places, such as your workplace. The World Health Organization provides several guidelines.
The very good first step toward preventing noise-induced hearing loss is to keep the volume of your listening devices low. A good rule of thumb is to listen to headphones for a maximum of 60 minutes a day, and at 60% of maximum volume. It is also good practice to carry earplugs to use once you are in a noisy venue—especially carefully fitted, if not custom-molded, earplugs. If you find yourself without earplugs, be sure to take regular, short breaks from the loud and noisy venue you are attending (though you should also do this even if you do have earplugs).
The World Health Organization also has suggestions for institutions such as schools, manufacturing industries, and governments to address hearing loss. Advocating a combination of awareness campaigns that alert people to the problems of noise-induced hearing loss, information on the best ways to preserve hearing, and steps that can be taken to enforce safe hearing levels, the World Health Organization is a serious leader in the global campaign to protect hearing at all costs.
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