The UN Issues Urgent Volume Guidelines for Audio Devices — Warns That More Than 1 Billion People Are at Risk of Permanent Hearing Damage

According to the United Nations and the World Health Organization, and, despite the guidelines, more than 900 million people will suffer from hearing loss by 2050.

The United Nations (UN) has issued a new report.

Unveiling new guidelines to address the problem, more than a billion 12-to-35-year-olds now face the risk of irreversible hearing loss.  Health experts blame exposure to loud sounds including music played on smartphones.

Recommendations to prevent noise-induced hearing loss and conditions – including tinnitus – include better functions on personal audio devices.  These, for example, would monitor how loud and for how long people listen to music overall.

Raising alarm over the issue, Dr. Shelly Chadha, a Technical Officer, said,

Over a billion young people are at risk of hearing loss simply by doing what they really enjoy doing a lot, which is listening regularly to music through their headphones over their devices.

At the moment, we don’t really have anything solid other than our instinct to tell us: are we doing this right, or is this something that is going to lead to tinnitus and hearing loss a few years down the line?

The recommendation comes from the World Health Organization (WHO) in alliance with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).  Data shows 50% of young people now listen to ‘unsafe levels’ of sound through personal audio devices.  These include smartphones, with worldwide usage growing.

According to WHO, hearing loss now costs the global economy $750 million.

Dr. Chadha used the example of a car driving on a highway without a speedometer or a speed limit.  She proposed fitting all smartphones with a measurement system.  This system would tell you how much sound you’re listening to, and when you go over the limit.

The UN also proposed a forced parental volume control option.

In addition, the volume guidelines propose using technology to create individualized listener profiles.  These profiles would monitor how much people use their audio devices.  People would see the amount of time they’ve listened to unsafe sounds.

Dr. Chadha pointed to additional proposed features, including automatic volume reduction.   When someone goes over the limit, devices would automatically reduce the volume to a level that wouldn’t harm their ears.

In addition, the WHO explained that more than one in 20 people – 432 million adults and 34 million children – currently has some form of disabling hearing loss.

Most people suffering from hearing loss come from poor and middle-income countries.  Despite the guidelines, the WHO estimates that over 900 million people around the world will have significantly impacted hearing by 2050.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General at the WHO, concluded,

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.

They must understand that once they lose their hearing, it won’t come back.


Featured image by Travis Isaacs (CC by 2.0).

2 Responses

  1. Pebah

    You would think the music industry would have been on this long ago. They are deafening their customers. Or does it only care about the young?

  2. Mik

    In order for this to have any hope of working at all, the headphones/earbuds will need to report their voltage sensitivity to the smartphone.