Imagine a world of silence or sounds seemingly so distant as to be indistinct or in need of repetition, be it babbling brook, song, or, for that matter, the human voice. That’s what some 1.1 billion teens and young people around the world face simply by plugging in the earbuds of their smartphones, iPods, and the like and turning up the volume. Add to that such noise-filled venues as concerts, bars, restaurants, and sporting events, and you see where I’m going with this.
These are the conclusions of the World Health Organization which recently analyzed data from various studies conducted in mid- to high-income countries. The conclusion: nearly 50% of 12- to 35-year-olds “are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from the use of personal audio devices, and around 40% are exposed to potentially damaging levels of sound at entertainment venues.”
So how loud is too loud? Noise levels are measured in something called decibels, dB for short, and:
- Regular exposure of more than one minute at or above 110 decibels risks permanent hearing loss.
- No more than 15 minutes of unprotected exposure at or above 100 decibels is recommended.
- Prolonged exposure to any noise at or above 85 decibels can cause gradual hearing loss.
Use this National Institute of Health’s “It’s a Noisy Planet” guide to keep you in the know:
- 140-165 ~ Firecracker, shotgun firing
- 140 ~ Jet taking off
- 120 ~ Ambulance siren
- 110 ~ Rock concert, symphony orchestra
- 105 ~ Personal stereo at maximum level
- 100 ~ Woodshop, snowmobile
- 90 ~ Power mower
- 85 ~ Heavy traffic, school cafeteria
- 75 ~ Dishwasher
- 60 ~ Normal conversation
- 40 ~ Refrigerator
- 30 ~ Whisper
Know, too, for instance, that a jackhammer will hit you with 130 decibels, while some MP3 players set at maximum volume offer up 110 dB. As for motorcycles whipping by, they sound off at 90 dB, while blow dryers, blenders, and food processors come in at between 80 to 90 dB.
Meanwhile, says the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, if you have to raise your voice to be heard, as is the case in many restaurants, concerts, and bars, you’re risking trouble. Same thing if you can’t hear someone who’s just three feet away from you.
And have no doubt: This is serious business. Worldwide, over 5% of us—some 360 million—suffer from moderate to profound hearing loss already. So, to ensure that you and your kids are never counted among them, be sure to:
- Turn down the volume of stereos and audio devices.
- Tune in for no more than one hour a day.
- Wear well-fitting ear plugs when heading to noisy venues.
- Unplug every so often to give ears a break.
In other words, teach your kids to be safe, not sorry. As WHO’s Dr. Etienne Krug puts it: “As they go about their daily lives doing what they enjoy, more and more young people are placing themselves at risk of hearing loss. They should be aware that once you lose your hearing, it won’t come back ….”