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A World Health Organization led study published in the journal BMJ Global Health that looked at data from 33 studies published in English, Spanish, French and Russian over the last two decades covering more than 19,000 participants aged between 12-34 has found that around one billion worldwide could be at risk of hearing loss from listening to headphones or attending loud music venues.

The WHO called on young people to be more careful about their listening habits and urged governments and manufacturers to do more to protect future hearing.

The study found 24 percent of young people having unsafe listening practices while using headphones with devices such as smartphones. 48 percent were found to have been exposed to unsafe noise levels at entertainment venues such as concerts or nightclubs.

Combining those findings resulted in an estimate of between 670,000 to 1.35 billion young people at risk of hearing loss.

Lauren Dilard, an audiologist at the Medical University of South Carolina and the study’s first author, said the best way for people to lessen their risk of hearing loss from headphones is to turn down the volume and listen for shorter periods. “Unfortunately, people do really like very loud music,” she admitted.

She also advised headphone users to use settings or apps on smartphones to monitor sound levels.

In loud environments, noise-cancelling headphones can help avoid “cranking up your music to try to drown out all that background noise,” she added.

Earplugs are also recommended at loud events like concerts or nightclubs, as all that exposure can compound. “And then, when you’re 67 years old, it can have a pretty big impact,” she said.

Dillard called on governments to comply with WHO guidelines on safe listening, including making sure venues monitor and limit sound levels. She also urged phone manufacturers to add features that warn users when the volume is too loud, and to include parental locks to restrict children’s exposure.

The potential for serious population-wide hearing loss is very large, and if we are to avoid that fate in our future, we will have to be more aware and more careful when it comes to using headphones or exposing ourselves to loud music because in the end, it will be our quality of life that will be seriously affected once our hearing starts to go.*

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