Audiophiles are not going to want to hear this, but the WHO (World Health Organization) says 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk for permanent hearing loss. The risk is from people like me listening to their music ‘too much, too loudly.’

The culprits? Personal audio players, concerts and bars. Yeah, let’s go ahead and push concerts off the table. I’m not going to a concert for the light ambiance, it’s purely to have a good time. Bars? Hey, if we can mandate the drunk moron staying away from the karaoke machine, I can get behind that. 

But, our biggest problem are our smartphones and audio players. In wealthy countries, half of the people, aged 12-35, expose themselves to unsafe hearing levels using the devices.

40 percent were exposed to damaging sound levels at bars and clubs. Guess when they drop the bass, they need to drop the volume. I don’t see it happening, but it’s good awareness.

The WHO estimates 43 million people have some form of hearing loss and the rate is increasing rapidly.

What does the organization recommend? “While it is important to keep the volume down, limiting the use of personal audio devices to less than one hour a day would do much to reduce noise exposure.” 

Dr. Etienne Krug, the WHO’s director for injury prevention understands the it is a difficult proposition. “That’s a rough recommendation, it is not by the minute, to give an idea to those spending 10 hours a day listening to an mp3-player. But even an hour can be too much if the volume is too loud.”

Sound Listening Guidelines

To give people guidance, the WHO released a set of listening time guidelines for decibel levels.

  • 85 dB – the level of noise inside a car – eight hours
  • 90 dB – lawn mower – two hours 30 minutes
  • 95 dB – an average motorcycle – 47 minutes
  • 100 dB – car horn or underground train – 15 minutes
  • 105 dB – mp3 player at maximum volume – four minutes
  • 115 dB – loud rock concert – 28 seconds
  • 120 dB – vuvuzela or sirens – nine seconds

A good rule to follow? Keep the volume at 60% of max. Use noise canceling headphones to drown out external noises on trips. This allows you to keep the volume at a reasonable level.

What does it mean for you? Invest in quality when it comes to headphones and earbuds. If you are you using the music to drown out the airplane or lawn mower, get noise canceling headphones.

Concert goers? Two options. Either take listening breaks away from the stage or speakers, or invest in cheap earplugs. They have enough noise reduction to keep you at the safe levels and allow you to stay in the crowd.

We are reaching epidemic proportions for hearing loss among young people. Being aware of safe levels now will do the world a favor down the road.


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