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Put Down those Airpods: Up to 1.35 Billion Youth at Risk of Hearing Loss

As World Health Organization (W.H.O.) currently estimates that over 430 million individuals across the globe suffer from hearing loss, yet that might represent only the tip of the iceberg, according to findings by a team at the University of South Carolina.

That study by the Department of Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery, Medical University of South Carolina, set out to determine the prevalence of current unsafe listening practices among individuals aged 12-34, as result of personal listening devices (PLDs), plus loud entertainment venues, and to estimate the number of young people who could be at risk of hearing loss from unsafe listening worldwide.

Their finding was rather grim, “Unsafe listening practices are highly prevalent worldwide and may place over 1 billion young people at risk of hearing loss. There is an urgent need to prioritize policy focused on safe listening.”

The researcher’s hypothesis is that the actual number of potentially hearing impaired or at-risk youth, might be as high as 1.35 billion worldwide.

Considering the globe just reached the 8 billion population mark, the prospect of 1 in 6 losing their hearing or being hard of hearing for decades into the future, is not good news.

The team evaluated 33 other hearing studies from across the globe – representing over 19,000 subjects - which points to the innovation and regular use – or overuse - of earbuds, headphones, plus attending loud concerts and music venues.

While the normal permissible levels of sound for adults is 80 dB and 75 dB for children, studies reveal young people using personal listening devices are pumping up the volume as high as 105 dB. Noise exposure at a concert or dance club might reach 112 dB. This is all simply too loud.

“Recurrent or even single instances of unsafe listening may cause physiological damage to the auditory system, presenting as transient or permanent tinnitus and/or changes to hearing,” according to the team at USC. Damage from unsafe listening can compound over the life course, and noise exposure earlier in life may make individuals more vulnerable to age-related hearing loss.”

The bottom-line researchers say is, “The urgent need to implement policy focused on safe listening habits worldwide in order to promote hearing loss prevention.”

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