International study released on how world hears

Young Americans are exposing themselves to a high risk of losing their hearing with 60 percent of teenagers and young adults revealing they listen to at least an hour of music a day through headphones, 15 percent doing so at very high or maximum volumes.  

Among the fascinating insights into our listening behavior found in the “How the World Hears” study conducted by the Hear the World Foundation is the revelation that of the 88 percent of Americans surveyed who agreed that good hearing is important to them, only nine percent take steps to always protect themselves from everyday noise.

Hear the World is a very strong proponent of people taking simple steps to protect against the excessive noise often experienced in daily life and their survey unearthed a low level of public awareness to the long term impact of hearing loss with just 38 percent of all Americans surveyed aware that hearing loss is irreversible.

Our ears are our most powerful sensory organ but also our most sensitive. They are in use 24 hours a day and have a significant influence on our physical and mental wellbeing. Nevertheless, we often underestimate the significance of hearing in a world dominated by the power of visuals.

The Hear the World Foundation has addressed this issue in a far reaching international study of hearing habits titled “How the World Hears”. The survey shines a spotlight on our listening behavior and how aware we are about hearing and hearing loss.

Key facts at a glance:

  • 60 percent of the young adults (16-24) surveyed in the US spend at least one hour a day listening to music through their headphones and 34 percent spend two hours or more. This was only exceeded by young Brazilians, of whom 64 percent spend at least one hour listening to music through headphones every day with 18 percent going for four hours.
  • 15 percent of the young Americans surveyed (16-24) put their hearing at risk by listening to music through headphones at very high to maximum volume. However common sense appears to increase with age: Whereas 11 percent of 25-to-34-year-olds listen to music at very high to maximum volume, among 35-to-55-year-olds this figure is just five percent. Germany and Brazil lead the way in the 16-24 age group with 18 percent and 16 percent respectively listening to music and very loud volume.
  • Only 9 percent of US respondents said that they always protect their ears from everyday noise (including traffic, aircrafts and building sites), for example by wearing earplugs or covering their ears. 24 percent of those surveyed do this only occasionally and 68 percent never protect their ears. At just eight percent, the Swiss were the least likely to protect themselves from everyday noise.
  • 58 percent of the Americans surveyed consider good hearing to be very important, with 30 percent deeming it simply to be important. The Brazilians seemed to be the most health conscious in this respect, with 86 percent saying that good hearing is very important to them. This stands in great contrast to their listening behavior.
  • Only 38 percent of the Americans surveyed were aware that hearing loss is irreversible. The lowest levels of awareness are found in China, where only 14 percent know that damaged hair cells in the inner ear cannot be repaired.
  • In all countries surveyed, there was great uncertainty as to whether or not hearing loss was age-related. Fifteen percent of the Americans surveyed speculated that hearing loss is something that only impacts on the elderly, with 22 percent saying that hearing loss can affect anyone. The fact is that the aging process is indeed the most frequent cause of hearing loss, with over half of us suffering from hearing loss by the time we reach 80. The second most common cause of hearing loss is everyday noise, something that people can easily protect themselves from.

“The results of this survey are very concerning, although based on my clinical experiences with children and young adults, I am not at all surprised,” said Jace Wolfe, PhD, Director of Audiology and Research, Hearts for Hearing Foundation, Oklahoma City, OK. “We routinely see teenagers with hearing loss that was formerly only seen in middle-aged and elderly persons or people who work in industrial or military environments with high-level noise. The configuration of their hearing loss strongly points toward noise as the cause, and when queried about their otologic history, they almost invariably report that they frequently listen to music at high levels under earphones. “I must say, however, that I am very encouraged that this survey found a direct link between people’s listening behaviors and their awareness of hearing loss and the dangers of high-level noise exposure,” he commented. “Obviously, it is imperative that healthcare professionals raise awareness of the importance of good hearing and of hearing preservation in order to prevent unnecessary hearing loss and the permanent, life-altering effects associated with it.”

Important tips for protecting your ears:

  • Keep the volume down: A noise level of less than 85 dB is considered safe for our ears. When listening to music on audio devices, keep the level no louder than 60 percent of the maximum volume.
  • Listen to music through headphones that fit well and decrease the ambient noise, this allows you to enjoy it at lower volumes, also in noisy surroundings.
  • Wear earplugs at concerts, in discos, and in other noisy places. Protection can reduce the noise level by 5 to 45 dB.
  • Use smartphone apps that measure ambient noise levels.
  • Give your ears a rest, put in acoustic breaks in your everyday and turn off all sources of noise.
  • Have your hearing checked regularly by a specialist.

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