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New Standards to Protect Young Peoples’ Hearing


Terri Ellert, HIS

Terri has been in practice as a Board-Certified Hearing Instrument Specialist for the past 11 years and is a co-founder of the Hearing Centers of Arizona.
Terri Ellert, HIS

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New Standards to Protect Young Peoples' Hearing

As hearing loss levels are predicted to rise among young people around the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) wants new standards that will help mitigate the potentially harmful effects of our smartphone culture on young people’s ears.

The new international standard was developed in conjunction with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and aims to prevent hearing loss among 1.1 billion young people. Launched in February of this year, it is named the “Toolkit for safe listening devices and systems.” and urges personal audio manufactures to implement safer audio standards on all future devices and to make sure that smartphone users are aware of how to practice safe listening when consuming audio content.

The standards include:

  • An app which displays the users ‘sound allowance’: the amount of sound a user has left before hearing damage is likely to occur. This is based on the idea that an individual may only expose themselves to a certain level of. The average adult can expose themselves to an 85dB sound for eight hours before hearing damage is done, for example.
  • A hearing profile of the user, based on the user’s listening activity, which gives helpful advice on the volume that have been listening to content and recommends steps based on that data. For example, the user might like to know that they are listening to their favorite songs at a volume that could be potentially damaging.
  • More control on volume limiting, setting a global volume limit for all sounds and apps on a phone, for example.
  • Advice on how to best listen safely, both through personal audio devices and for other activities that the user might partake in.

New standards for a new danger

The guidelines come at a time where young people are more access to personal audio devices than ever before. The WHO estimates that half of people aged 12-35 – 1.1 billion young people – are at risk of hearing loss from persistent exposure to loud sounds, most notably the music they listen to through audio devices such as smartphones. To mark World Hearing Day (March 3), the WHO and ITU issued these voluntary new standards for personal audio manufacturers to follow in a bid to encourage safe listening practices worldwide.

“Given that we have the technological know-how to prevent hearing loss, it should not be the case that so many young people continue to damage their hearing while listening to music,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general. “They must understand that once they lose their hearing, it won’t come back. This new WHO-ITU standard will do much to better safeguard these young consumers as they go about doing something they enjoy.”

Non-stop content

The concern for young people’s hearing coincides with the rise of unlimited music and video streaming services. Now you can watch your favorite TV shoes and discover new music anywhere you want, in the palm of your hand. And with portable USB power banks, it’s never even easier to keep the music flowing.  In this brave new world, people are streaming more content to their ears than ever before.

The other change is the individualisation of this consumption. Before, everyone used to gather around the TV or stereo. Now everyone has their own device and plugs into their own set of earphones, which are seen as more dangerous than headphones in developing hearing loss.

What else you can do to prevent hearing loss

You don’t have to wait for manufacturers to follow this advice before taking care of your hearing. Noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable, but you need to be vigilant of the types of earphones you are using, the volume you are setting it at, and the amount of time you are listening.

Experts recommend these changes to preserve your hearing while still enjoying personal audio content: listen at 60% of the volume for a maximum of 60 minutes and take a 5-minute break. And invest in some noise-cancelling headphones. “If you’re in a loud spot, noise-cancelling headphones… may be best at preserving your hearing,” according to Kevin H. Franck, Ph.D., director of audiology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear at Harvard Medical School.

Are you concerned that you or a family member may have hearing loss from unsafe hearing practices? Schedule a hearing test with us today!

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