World Health Organisation recommends reducing music listening to ‘an hour a day’

Report suggests we are listening to 'too much, too loudly'

Headphones: listing to music

The World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed that audio players and loud concert environments are posing a 'serious threat' to our hearing, with 1.1 billion teenagers and adults at risk of developing hearing loss.

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In a recent report, the WHO recommended that reducing listening time to ‘less than one hour a day’ could do a great deal to avoid the possible damages unsafe noise exposure can cause.

The report, released in the lead up to International Ear Care day on March 3, has revealed that nearly 50 per cent of people between the ages of 12-35 listen to audio devices at unsafe levels of volume. By keeping the volume at a maximum of 60 per cent, and taking occasional listening breaks, the WHO believes that the risk of hearing loss could be reduced.

'As they go about their daily lives doing what they enjoy, more and more young people are placing themselves at risk of hearing loss,' says Dr Etienne Krug, director for injury prevention at WHO. 'They should be aware that once you lose your hearing, it won’t come back. Taking simple preventive actions will allow people to continue to enjoy themselves without putting their hearing at risk.'

Along with the findings, the WHO provides 'safe listening' suggestions, which range from 85 decibels (dB) for eight hours – the level of noise inside a car – to 120 dB (vuvuzela or sirens) for nine seconds.

While classical music concerts do not reach excessively loud volumes due to lack of amplification, at its peak, a symphonic work can reach highs of 120 dB, with an average classical concert reaching between 70-90dB. Individual instruments playing fortissimo can achieve highs of approximately 100dB, which, comes close to the levels of a loud rock concert at 115 dB.

Though there is a risk of unsafe exposure through live classical performance, the WHO have identified loud rock concerts as one of the main contributors to hearing loss. It is estimated that hearing loss in rock musicians is approximately 13.30 per cent, in comparison to 4.43 per cent of those performing classical music.

Data for the report are taken from studies in middle- and high-income countries analysed by WHO. 

Maisie Hillier

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