Over the holidays, I indulged myself and bought a pair of Sennheiser 558s. I prefer to listen to music alone, at moderately loud volumes, in dimly lit rooms, and with my eyes closed. (I’m halfway to being a hermit, I know.) While the experience itself can be likened to a form of therapy or meditation, it’s something I may now think twice about. That’s because according to a new report by the World Health Organization, over 1 billion people are at risk of hearing loss due to excessive exposure to “damaging levels” of sound.
Studies conducted by the WHO point specifically to people’s overuse of personal audio devices as the reason for the alarming numbers. Data gathered from both middle- and high-income countries indicated 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.” What exactly constitutes “unsafe levels”? The public health agency offered this example as a means of measurement: “exposure to in excess of 85 decibles [sic] (dB) for eight hours or 100dB for 15 minutes.”
The WHO report doesn’t stop there, however. In addition to our own personal gadgets, about 40% of that same demographic is at risk because of sound at entertainment venues, such as nightclubs, bars, concerts, and sporting events.
“As they go about their daily lives doing what they enjoy, more and more young people are placing themselves at risk of hearing loss,” said Dr Etienne Krug, WHO Director for the Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention. “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.”
Some of the preventive measures suggested include using earplugs in noisy settings, taking short listening breaks, and, of course, turning down the volume on things like speakers and MP3 players. The WHO even went so far as to recommend “restricting the daily use of personal audio devices to less than one hour.” Indeed, a minimum of 60 minutes sounds a little extreme (I’m basically doomed because of my job), but hey, don’t you want to be able to properly hear So Help Me God?