Turn down the volume: WHO takes aim at harmful smartphone use

February 12, 2019

Credit: CC0 Public Domain
More than one billion young people risk damaging their hearing through excessive use of smartphones and other audio devices, the UN warned Tuesday, proposing new safety standards for safe volume levels.

In a bid to safeguard hearing, the World Health Organization and International Telecommunications Union issued a non-binding international standard for the manufacture and use of audio devices.

Young people are particularly prone to risky listening habits.

Around half of those between the ages of 12 and 35, or 1.1 billion people, are at risk due to "prolonged and excessive exposure to loud sounds, including music they listen to through personal audio devices," the UN health agency said.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed out that the world already has "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," he said in the statement.

Young people, he said, "must understand that once they lose their hearing, it won't come back."

Currently, about five percent of the global population, or some 466 million people, including 34 million children, suffer from disabling hearing loss.

WHO said it remained unclear how many of them had damaged their hearing through dangerous use of audio devices.

It insisted though that the new standard developed with ITU would go a long way to "safeguard these young consumers as they go about doing something they enjoy."

WHO considers a volume above 85 decibels for eight hours or 100 decibels for 15 minutes as unsafe.

The Safe listening devices and systems standard calls for a "sound allowance" software to be included in all audio devices, to track the volume level and duration of a user's exposure to sound, and to evaluate the risk posed to their hearing.

This system could alert a user if they have dangerous listening habits.

WHO is also calling for parental as well as automatic volume controls on audio devices to prevent dangerous use.

While some smartphones and other audio devices already offer some of these features, the UN would like to see a uniform standard used to help protect against disabling hearing loss.

"Think of it like driving on a highway, but without a speedometer in your car or a speed limit," Shelly Chadha of the WHO told reporters in Geneva.

"What we've proposed is that your smartphones come fitted with a speedometer, with a measurement system which tells you how much sound you're getting and tells you if you are going over the limit".

Explore further: UN says limit use of personal audio players to 1 hour a day (Update)

Related Stories

Youth are quietly losing their hearing

August 27, 2014

Children and teens constantly plugged into personal listening devices, such as phones, computers or music players, could be harming their ears without realizing it, says a Purdue University audiologist.

Recommended for you

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

The friendly extortioner takes it all

February 15, 2019

Cooperating with other people makes many things easier. However, competition is also a characteristic aspect of our society. In their struggle for contracts and positions, people have to be more successful than their competitors ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

JamesG
not rated yet Feb 12, 2019
More bureaucratic intervention from the world domination wanna be.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.