The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates 1.1 billion young people worldwide are at risk of hearing loss due to unsafe listening practices. This includes exposure to loud sounds on personal audio devices and in noisy entertainment venues.
In order to address this concern, WHO has launched the Make Listening Safe initiative, which aims to reduce hearing loss caused by listening to loud sounds, by promoting safe listening.
What is safe listening?
The term safe listening simply refers to a specific listening behaviour that does not put your hearing at risk.
To risk your hearing depends on how loud, for how long and how often you are exposed to loud sounds, in venues, at work or at home.
Sensory cells can tolerate only a certain amount of daily noise before being damaged: this amount is called the daily sound allowance. It's just like your weekly pocket money: you have a certain amount to spend, and the louder or longer you are exposed to high levels of sound, the more you 'spend'. If you exceed your daily sound allowance it harms your ears and hearing, and over time the result is hearing loss.
If you exceed your daily sound allowance, over time the result is hearing loss.
How is loudness measured? Just what is dB?
The unit of measurement used to express the intensity of a sound is the decibel (dB). A whisper is around 30 dB and normal conversation approximately 60 dB. Your earphones need to be about the same. Your risk of losing your hearing depends on how loud, for how long and how often you are exposed to loud sounds.
The WHO way to make your listening safer
To practice safe listening, check what's available on your personal audio device; there is software that monitors your daily sound allowance. At work take extra care to ensure your hearing is protected at all times.
Our hearing is definitely fading, according to the World Report on Hearing (WRH), with more than one in five of us living with hearing loss, and that number set to rise to 25 percent by 2050.
The report goes on to say that action is needed to address the obvious need for the integration of quality ear and hearing services.
Two of the key messages are that the number of people living with unaddressed hearing loss and ear diseases is unacceptable, and that timely action is needed to prevent and address hearing loss during our lives.
The WRH explains the messages in more detail.
Why hearing matters: hearing across course of our lives
The sense of hearing is a key aspect of functioning at all stages of life; and its loss, unless appropriately addressed, impacts society as a whole.
Factors that impact our hearing capacity range from birth-related adverse events and ear infections, to viral infections, noise exposure, some medicines and lifestyle choices. Many of these can be prevented throughout the life course by following good ear hygiene, and by avoiding loud sounds.
Solutions for everyone: hearing loss can be prevented and addressed
Effective and timely interventions can benefit all those at risk of, or living with, hearing loss. Hearing loss is preventable. In children, almost 60 percent of hearing loss is due to causes that can be prevented through measures such as immunisation, improved maternal and neonatal care, and screening for, and early management of, otitis media (middle ear infection).
In adults, legislation on noise control and safe listening, and surveillance of ototoxicity(when a person develops hearing or balance problems due to a medicine), can help reduce the potential for hearing loss.
Health is an investment and the cost of doing nothing is too high.
Facing the challenges: improving access to ear and hearing care
There are a number of challenges in the field of ear and hearing care, but they can be addressed. Health is an investment and the cost of doing nothing is too high.
Once diagnosed, early intervention is the key to successful outcomes. Medical and surgical treatment can cure most ear diseases, potentially reversing the associated hearing loss. Rehabilitation is also key for some.
The vision of ear and hearing care: designing the way forward
Integrated people-centred ear and hearing care can overcome the challenges faced, summarised in the acronym "H.E.A.R.I.N.G.".
Hearing loss if unaddressed, can impact negatively many aspects of our lives, like communication, the development of language and speech in children, cognition, education, employment, our mental health, and most importantly our interpersonal relationships.