What if turning up the volume on your favorite tunes or rocking out at ear-shattering concerts could actually lead to hearing loss?
It’s not exactly a burning question that crosses our minds, especially in a world where music isn’t just a background hum but a full-blown experience, proven to have amazing healing.
Listening to music, podcasts, and hitting up events with blasting speakers is just a part of our lives. It’s both a personal indulgence and a shared experience. Sadly, the sheer joy of jamming to your favorite beats or surrendering to the thunderous energy of a live concert can lead to hearing loss on a global scale.
According to a recent study from BMJ Global Health, a review of 35 studies spanning personal listening devices such as mobile phones, iPods, and other digital music players, and loud entertainment venues—clubs, pubs, you name it— from 2000 to 2021, dropped a bombshell. It suggested that nearly 1.35 billion people aged 12-34 could be flirting with hearing loss, courtesy of unsafe listening practices while using these devices or during visits to these noise-pumping venues.
Going into their research, scientists pored over the listening habits of over 19,000 individuals in 35 studies spanning the last two decades. To keep things consistent, they categorized unsafe listening as cranking up the tunes above 80 sound volume – the buzz of a busy city street, the racket from an old loud vacuum cleaner, or the blare of a phone ringing at full tilt – for over 40 hours a week. Notably, 80 sound volume is the threshold where governments typically mandate industries to implement hearing protection measures.
In their sample, the researchers found that over 23% of youngsters were rocking out to tunes at volumes and durations surpassing this safety threshold. When it came to clubs and live gigs, the stats took a more alarming turn. Almost half of the sampled individuals were guilty of surpassing these safety levels in loud entertainment venues. Crunching the numbers, the scientists estimated the global count of young people at risk of hearing loss due to unsafe listening practices ranged from 0.67 to 1.35 billion.
To put this in perspective, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that around 1.5 billion people globally are grappling with hearing loss, with 34 million being children. Alarmingly, 60% of cases are due to preventable causes, according to WHO. Unsafe music habits among young could significantly contribute to this figure.
The repercussions of hearing loss are on the rise, affecting communication, language development in children, and fostering loneliness and frustration in older people. Social isolation becomes a reality for those without hearing capabilities, with WHO highlighting the unfortunate reality that children with hearing loss often miss out on schooling opportunities.
Hidden Dangers of Noise, Music, and Global Hearing Health
But noise can be just as harmful. The health risks associated with loud noise, even in the form of music, are severe.
Loud noise, including music, can harm your health. It can over time damage the hair cells and membranes in the inner part of the ear—the cochlea—making it difficult to hear speech or sounds. Loud noise can also lead to health problems like mental health disorders, sleep issues, like heart disease, and diabetes. The study warns that current listening habits, especially among over a billion young people, may be risking their hearing. The study notes limitations, mostly focusing on European and American data, but suggests unsafe listening habits are pulling a global scale, especially where ear safety rules aren’t supervised.
The good news is that dodging hearing loss caused by risky music habits is easy. Experts point out that it’s way simpler to safeguard your ears personally than on a bigger scale. Case in point, many phones nowadays have software to track safe listening levels and cap exposure. Even though it’s trickier to shake things up in noisy events, making small changes, like cutting down visits to loud music joints and wearing ear plugs when you do, to keep your hearing intact.