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UN issues guidelines for listening to music on audio devices, over a billion people at risk of hearing loss

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Unveiling new guidelines to help address the problem, the joint initiative of UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) and International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has made an attempt to tackle the lack of awareness about what constitutes too much noise. Around 50% of young people listen to unsafe levels of sound through personal audio devices including smartphones, whose use continues to grow globally.

More than one billion 12 to 35-year-old’s are at a risk of suffering from  irreversible hearing loss due to exposure to loud sounds such as music played on their smartphone, UN health experts said on Tuesday.

The recommendations to prevent noise-induced hearing loss and related conditions such as tinnitus – commonly experienced as a ringing sound inside the ear – include better functions on personal audio devices that monitor how loud, and for how long, people listen to music.

“Over a billion young people are at risk of hearing loss simply by doing what they really enjoy doing a lot, which is listening regularly to music through their headphones over their devices. The issue of hearing loss, which is not addressed, is estimated to cost the global economy $750 mn,” said Dr Shelly Chadha, a Technical Officer, working on preventing deafness and hearing loss, at WHO.

 

 

“Think of it like driving on a highway but without a speedometer in your car or a speed limit. And what we have proposed is that your smartphone comes fitted with a speedometer, with a measurement system that tells you how much sound you’re getting and tells you if you’re going over the limit,” Chadha added.

A parental volume control option is also included in the UN recommendations to industry, which participated in two-years of discussions, along with experts from government, consumer bodies and civil society.

The guidelines also propose using technology to generate individualized listener profiles by monitoring how much people use their audio devices, then letting them know how safely – or not – they have been listening.

“What we propose are certain features like automatic limiting of, or automatic volume reduction and parental control of the volume. So that when somebody goes over their sound limit they have the option that the device will automatically reduce the volume to a level which is not going to harm their ears,” explained Dr Chadha.

According to the WHO, more than one in 20 people – 432 mn adults and 34 mn children – has disabling hearing loss, which impacts on their quality of life. Most sufferers live in poor and middle-income countries, the UN agency notes, adding that by 2050, more than 900 mn people will have significantly impaired hearing.

Around half of all cases of hearing loss could be prevented through public health measures, WHO insists.

“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. They must understand that once they lose their hearing, it won’t come back,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

 

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