While the estimate is staggering, there are ways to protect your hearing from damage.
The WHO’s report was released March 2, the day before World Hearing Day. The report brought to light many issues that contribute to hearing loss, such as lack of information on prevention and access to medical care in low-income countries.
“In children, almost 60% of hearing loss can be prevented through measures such as immunization for prevention of rubella and meningitis, improved maternal and neonatal care, and screening for, and early management of, otitis media — inflammatory diseases of the middle ear,” the WHO said in a news release. “In adults, noise control, safe listening and surveillance of ototoxic medicines together with good ear hygiene can help maintain good hearing and reduce the potential for hearing loss.”
Living or working in areas where loud noise is prevalent can contribute to hearing loss, according to the release. While it may be difficult to control our surroundings, we do have control over the volume of our recreational activities.
Appreciating the sound effects in an action movie or loud music at an outdoor concert may be OK on occasion, but Dr. Patty Saldivar, an audiologist in Texas, explained that the mechanisms in our ears are delicate and cannot be restored if damaged.
Sound waves travel through the ear canal, causing the eardrum to vibrate the fluid in the cochlea. In the cochlea are the hair cells that get damaged when pressure from sound waves is constant.
“Hair cells don’t regenerate, so once they die, that’s it,” said Saldivar.
Of those who could be suffering from ear damage at high rates are young adults.
According to the WHO, over one billion young adults, ages 12 to 35, are at risk of permanent, avoidable hearing loss caused by unsafe listening practices. Those practices can include listening to music or games at a volume that is too loud.
Saldivar said while it is rare that someone in that population comes to her office with hearing loss, she does sometimes encounter some with high-frequency hearing loss, and the causes are easily identified.
“I will tell them, “If someone else can hear those [earphones], then you have them too loud,’” said Saldivar.
She said the safe range for listening to anything is below 85 dBs. She provided this reference:
- Conversational Speech: 60 dBs
- Lawn Mower: 90 dBs
- Concert: 120 dBs
“A shotgun near the ear would cause permanent damage,” she said.
She noted that after a concert, people may experience some ringing in the ear and recover the next day, but repeated exposure will cause hearing loss. She advises using earplugs at loud events.
Another tip would be alternating the ear in which you are wearing an earphone.
“If you alternated, then you lessened the hours of exposure because it’s all about the hours of exposure and the level of the decibel,” said Saldivar.
Apple also conducted a hearing study, which found that 25% of participants experience a daily average exposure to environmental sound — such as traffic, machinery, or public transport — that is higher than the WHO recommended limit. It also found that almost 50% of participants work or previously worked in a loud workplace.
To help users be proactive about their hearing health, Apple offers a “Hearing” feature that allows users to monitor sound decibel levels through sound recognition, headphone customization and sensory alerts, among other things.