WHO hearing loss statistics – should we care?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently published the startling figure that 1.1 billion young people are at risk of suffering from hearing loss through repeat exposure to excessive levels of noise. Experts said headphones and personal music players were mostly to blame. As someone who wears hearing aids but enjoys a loud blast of punk, what’s my take on it?

Who turned up the volume?

Years ago, I interviewed a singer who reminisced about those late teenage nights when he’d listen to a record with the sound barely audible so he wouldn’t wake his parents. “I’d put it up to the first notch and press my ear against the speaker, straining on every note”, he said. There were no headphones back then.

Now, the proliferation of media devices with earphones (particularly the ghastly white ones that are known to bleed music) has given everybody both the opportunity to explore a world of noise privately but, potentially, damage their hearing in the process. Calls have repeatedly been made to limit the decibel output in music players and some companies have put optional limiters in. The keyword there is optional.

Who’s responsible?

Is it the responsibility of the manufacturer or the consumer? As someone who enjoys loud music, has a hearing loss but is also susceptible to further damage, I feel that it’s down to the individual to look after their ears. I’ll raise my hand and say I’ve over-ridden the noise limiters on my MP3 player. I’ve driven my car with the stereo on full blast, which I assume went well past the WHO recommended 100db safety level. I’ve also been crammed next to speakers at a gig for longer than the suggested 15 minutes.

However, in the past year or so I’ve started to notice a slight ringing in my ears that sticks with me after I get out of the car and follows me around for an hour. It might come back later to remind me that I’m not impervious to further damage. Neither are you.

Enjoy the silence

So, on days when I have no particular need for them, I leave my hearing aids on the bedside for a while and enjoy almost complete silence. I can still hear low-frequency sounds like an overhead plane or passing car but it’s a respite from thrashing Slayer at full blast down the motorway.

According to the WHO, I’m one of 360 million people around the world suffering from a moderate to profound hearing loss. At this rate, we could see that number rise to over a billion within a generation. Take care of your ears. Enjoy the silence, as Depeche Mode would say.

(but don’t actually listen to that song loud because it defeats the point)

WHO press release


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