Three Billion Video Gamers Worldwide Risk Irreversible Hearing Loss, WHO Warns

Three Billion Video Gamers Worldwide Risk Irreversible Hearing Loss, WHO Warns

*Says 50,000 sound levels exceed permissible limits

Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised the alarm over the health danger posed by high sound levels to video gamers.
It said that studies by researchers suggest that game sound levels often near, or exceed, permissible safe limits, adding that greater public health efforts are needed to raise awareness of potential risks.

Quoting a research study published in the Open Access Journal – BMJ Public Health., the global health body warned that: “Video gamers worldwide may be risking irreversible hearing loss and/or tinnitus – persistent ringing/buzzing in the ears.”

“What evidence there suggests is that the sound levels reported in studies of more than 50,000 people often near, or exceed permissible safe limits,” the researchers added.”  

WHO explained that given the popularity of these games, greater public health efforts are needed to raise awareness of the potential risks.

According to WHO, while headphones, earbuds, and music venues have been recognised as sources of potentially unsafe sound levels, relatively little attention has been paid to the effects of video games, including e-sports, on hearing loss.

It said gamers often play at high-intensity sound levels and for several hours at a time.

It estimates that there will be more than three billion gamers worldwide in 2022.

Giving details of the study, WHO said that the researchers tried to build an evidence base and that they trawled research databases looking for relevant studies and white papers, newsletters, reports, and proceedings.

In addition, it said some 14 peer-reviewed studies from nine countries in North America, Europe, South East Asia, Asia and Australasia, involving a total of 53,833 people, were included in the review.

“Eleven were cohort (epidemiological observational) studies, six of which looked at the associations between hearing and computer or video games; four focused on gaming centres or personal computer rooms, which are popular in Asia; and one focused on mobile devices.

“Reported sound levels ranged from 43.2 decibels (dB) (mobile devices) up to 80-89 dB (gaming centres), while length of noise exposure varied by mode and frequency of access–from daily to once a month, for at least an hour at a time, averaging three hours/week.

“Impulse sounds consist of bursts lasting less than one second, with peak levels at least 15 dB higher than the background sound. One study reported that impulse sounds reached levels as high as 119 dB during gameplay; permissible exposure limits are around 100 dB for children and 130–140 dB for adults,” it said.

In providing the background for the study, researchers said that the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, described a time–intensity trade-off, known as an exchange rate, for permissible levels and duration of exposure.

For example, it said a permissible noise exposure level of 80 dB for 40 hours a week with a three-dB exchange rate means the permissible exposure time halves with every 3 dB increase in noise level: at 83 dB it’s 20 hours; at 86 dB it’s 10 hours; at 92 dB it’s 2.5 hours; and at 98 dB it’s 38 minutes.

For children, the permissible noise exposure level is defined as 75 dB for 40 hours a week.

Children can therefore safely listen to an 83 dB sound for around 6.5 hours, 86 dB for around 3.25 hours, 92 dB for 45 minutes, and 98 dB for only 12 minutes a week, the researchers said.

WHO statement said that six studies had reported on video gaming prevalence among young people, which ranged from 20 per cent to 68 per cent. Two South Korean studies reported a prevalence of gaming centre use at around 60 per cent.

Five studies evaluated associations between gaming and self-reported hearing loss, hearing thresholds, or tinnitus. Of these, two found that school pupils’ gaming centre use was linked to increased odds of severe tinnitus and high-frequency sound hearing loss in both ears.

Another large observational study reported that video gaming was associated with increased odds of self-reported hearing loss severity.

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