About one billion young people worldwide could be at risk of hearing loss from listening to headphones or attending loud music venues, a major review of existing research estimated on Wednesday.
The study, led by the World Health Organization, urged young people to take better care of their listening habits and urged governments and manufacturers to do more to protect hearing in the future.
The analysis, published in the journal BMJ Global Health, looked at data from 33 studies published in English, Spanish, French and Russian over the past two decades involving more than 19,000 participants aged 12-34.
It was found that 24 percent of the youth had unsafe listening practices when using headphones with devices such as smartphones.
And 48 percent were found to have been exposed to unsafe noise at entertainment venues such as concerts or nightclubs.
Combining these findings, the study estimated that between 670,000 and 1.35 billion young people may be at risk of hearing loss.
The wide range is partly because some young people are likely at risk for both factors, said Lauren Dillard, an audiologist at the Medical College of South Carolina and first author of the study.
Dillard told AFP that the best way for people to reduce the risk of hearing loss from headphones is to lower the volume and listen for less time.
“Unfortunately, people really like really loud music,” she admitted.
Headphone users should use settings. or smartphone apps to monitor volume, Dillard advised.
In noisy environments, noise-canceling headphones can help avoid “swinging your music to try to drown out all that background noise,” she added.
Earplugs should be worn at loud events such as concerts or nightclubs, she said, adding: “Maybe it’s fun to be in front of the speakers, but it’s not a good idea for your health in the long term.”
“All of these behaviors, these exposures can compound over your entire life, and then by the time you’re 67, it can have a pretty big impact,” she said.
Dillard called on the government to follow the WHO’s guidelines for safe listening, including ensuring venues monitor and limit music levels.
She also urged companies that make devices such as phones to warn listeners when the volume is too loud and to have parental controls to limit children’s exposure.
Limitations of the study included different methodologies in different studies and that none came from low-income countries.
Stephen Stansfeld, an expert in noise and health at Queen Mary University of London, who was not involved in the research, said it showed that “the potential for severe hearing loss in the general population is very high”.
More than 430 million people – more than five percent of the world’s population – currently have severe hearing loss, according to the WHO, which estimates that number will rise to 700 million by 2050.