The World Health Organisation says millions of young people are at risk of hearing loss by listening to loud music. They found that younger people are more at risk of developing hearing problems as they are more likely to listen to very loud music.

Around ten million (1 in 6) people in the UK suffer from some form of hearing loss. Whether it’s at a club or a live music event, more and more young people are surrounded by noise that is affecting their hearing. Around forty per cent of teenagers and young adults are exposed to excessive sound, but are often unaware of the consequences.

Chris Barlow, professor in acoustics at Southampton Solent University likens the affect music has on the ear to stalks of wheat:

“If you get wind gong across a field of wheat, it kind of ripples – they kind of bend and spring back up again. If the wind turns into a hurricane, they get knocked flat, they break and they don’t come back up again. If you put too high a sound level into the ear, exactly the same thing happens – as it gets louder and louder, the hair cells end up bending more and more because the vibration is so high.”

The issue for young people is that this section of the ear doesn’t grow back and so their hearing degrades through to later life. A typical live music or club event registers at between 100-120 decibels – a level that is only safe for around six minutes. It takes twenty-four hours for the ear to recover safely – a period where sound below eighty decibels is safe to listen to, but anything above that will affect the recovery.

There are calls for the school syllabus to include more information and advice regarding how noise affects a person’s hearing. Currently, it is taught in biology and music lessons, but the WHO calls for teachers to encourage young people to protect their hearing from loud music.

Occupational noise is being controlled through the use of Personal Protective Equipment and health and safety legislation. That means people are more likely to be surrounded by high levels of noise during their leisure activities. Loud music triggers the adrenaline reflexes and so people are more comfortable around music, but are less likely to be aware about the risk to their hearing.

Professional bassist, JJ Sinfield, advises wearing ear-plugs to reduce the high levels of sound entering the ear:

“Ear plugs are a great way of minimising the sound entering your ear. You can pick them up reasonably cheaply, although the ones that form a mould are better at blocking out background noise.”

It seems clear the World Health Organisation is tackling a large issue among the younger generation, although a lack of information and advice is holding back an awareness of the risks to our hearing.

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