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More Than 1 Billion People Risk Hearing Loss from Loud Music

U.N. agencies warn listening to loud music is unsafe and can cause permanent damage to hearing.

U.N. agencies warn that more than 1 billion people ages 12 to 35 risk losing their hearing from listening to loud music on their audio devices. The World Health Organization, and the International Telecommunication Union, are launching new international standards to make smartphones and other devices safer for listening.

Listening to music is one of life’s greatest pleasures. U.N. health experts say they do not want to deprive younger people of the enjoyable experience of listening to music regularly on their headphones. But they warn listening to loud music is unsafe and can cause permanent damage to hearing.

The World Health Organization says it has no clear evidence that 1.1 billion people are at risk of developing hearing problems. However, WHO technical officer for the prevention of deafness and hearing loss Shelly Chadha said the figure is based on a study conducted four years ago.

That study, she says, focused on the listening habits of young people and the volume of sound to which they were generally exposed. She said this information has been valuable in working on solutions for preventing hearing loss.

“So, our effort through this standard is really to empower the user to make the right listening choice and decision, either to practice safe listening or to take the risk of developing hearing loss and tinnitus down the line.

The main recommendations for safe listening include having software on personal audio devices that measures how long and how loudly a user has been listening to music. They also call for automatic volume reduction systems on smartphones and other devices, as well as parental volume control.

The U.N. agencies say they hope governments and manufacturers will adopt the suggested standards, as disabling hearing loss is set to increase significantly in the coming years.

The WHO and ITU report 466 million people suffer from the disability, most in low- and middle-income countries. It estimates the number will rise to more than 900 million people by 2050. The agencies say half of all cases of hearing loss can be prevented through public health measures.