Among people ages 12 to 35 in middle and high-income countries, nearly 50 percent are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from the use of personal audio devices such as smartphones and MP3 players. Around 40 percent are exposed to potentially damaging sound levels at nightclubs, bars and sporting events, according to WHO.

Unsafe listening is tied to a particular form of hearing damage called noise-induced hearing loss. Unlike other forms of hearing loss, noise-induced hearing loss is completely preventable. However, once it occurs, it is irreversible.

A growing concern

While noise-induced hearing loss is not a new phenomenon, concern is growing due to the rise in popularity of personal technology devices that are accompanied by the use of ear buds and headphones. Their use is common even among toddlers.

"Children should be taught about safe listening practices early, but adopting these practices is beneficial at any age to prevent further damage."

According to a poll of U.S. parents of young children commissioned by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association this past spring, 68 percent of 2-year-olds use a tablet.

Besides losing the ability to enjoy one’s hearing for a lifetime, hearing loss is tied to a host of other negative consequences. In young people, hearing loss impacts academic and social success. In adults, it can affect career advancement and limit earning potential. It also is associated with other health concerns including anxiety, depression and earlier onset of dementia.

Prevention

Preventing noise-induced hearing loss is relatively simple. When using technology with ear buds or headphones, keep the volume to half-level and take listening breaks. When attending concerts, sporting events, fireworks and other noisy activities or venues, keep a healthy distance from noise sources such as speakers and bring hearing protection (ear plugs are an inexpensive, easy and accessible way to keep ears safe; young children should use ear muffs).

Furthermore, if symptoms such as pain, ringing in the ears or difficulty hearing occurs after a noisy event or at any time, consult with an audiologist immediately for a complete hearing evaluation.

Children should be taught about safe listening practices early, but adopting these practices is beneficial at any age to prevent further damage.