50% of people aged 12-35 years young people – are at risk of hearing loss due to loud sounds

World Health Organization

New WHO-ITU
standard aims to prevent hearing loss among 1.1 billion young people

Geneva –
Nearly 50% of people aged 12-35 years – or 1.1 billion young people – are at
risk of hearing loss due to prolonged and excessive exposure to loud sounds,
including music they listen to through personal audio devices. Ahead of World
Hearing Day
(3 March), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International
Telecommunication Union
(ITU) have issued a new international standard for
the manufacture and use of these devices, which include smartphones and audio
players, to make them safer for listening.

“Given
that we have the technological know-how to prevent hearing loss, it should not
be the case that so many young people continue to damage their hearing while
listening to music,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO
Director-General. “They must understand that once they lose their hearing,
it won’t come back. This new WHO-ITU standard will do much to better safeguard
these young consumers as they go about doing something they enjoy.”

Over 5% of
the world’s population – or 466 million people – has disabling hearing loss
(432 million adults and 34 million children); impacting on their quality of
life. The majority live in low- and middle-income countries. It is estimated
that by 2050 over 900 million people – or 1 in every 10 people – will have
disabling hearing loss. Hearing loss which is not addressed poses an annual
global cost of US$ 750 billion. Overall, it is suggested that half of all cases
of hearing loss can be prevented through public health measures.

Features
of safe listening devices

The Safe
listening devices and systems: a WHO-ITU standard recommends that personal
audio devices include:

Sound
allowance” function: software that tracks the level and duration of the user’s
exposure to sound as a percentage used of a reference exposure.

Personalized
profile
: an
individualized listening profile, based on the user’s listening practices,
which informs the user of how safely (or not) he or she has been listening and
gives cues for action based on this information.

Volume
limiting options
:
options to limit the volume, including automatic volume reduction and parental
volume control.

General
information
:
information and guidance to users on safe listening practices, both through
personal audio devices and for other leisure activities.

The standard
was developed under WHO’s “Make Listening Safe” initiative which seeks
to improve listening practices especially among young people, both when they
are exposed to music and other sounds at noisy entertainment venues and as they
listen to music through their personal audio devices. The WHO-ITU standard for
safe listening devices was developed by experts from WHO and ITU over a
two-year process drawing on the latest evidence and consultations with a range
of stakeholders, including experts from government, industry, consumers and
civil society.

WHO
recommends that governments and manufacturers adopt the voluntary WHO-ITU
standard. Civil society, in particular professional associations and others
that promote hearing care, also has a role to play in advocating for the
standard and in raising public awareness about the importance of safe listening
practices so that consumers demand products that protect them from hearing loss.
The WHO-ITU toolkit for implementation of the global standard for safe
listening devices provides practical guidance on how to do this.

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