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Music remains an essential diversion for most people. During driving, exercising, or doing housework, music helps people endure rote tasks that would otherwise seem unbearable. Background music often helps productivity at the workplace.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently slammed down some severe guidelines for those who love their mood music for hours at a time. Their strict new report urges teenagers and young adults to limit their enjoyment of tunage to one hour or less per day. Even worse, the new guidelines say all music should be quiet, and headphones are the enemy. You can read the new WHO directives on their website.
WHO says 1.1 billion young people are currently at risk of permanent hearing loss, thanks to the ready availability of iPods and other mp3 players. Their figures say 43 million of those aged 12-35 already have significant hearing loss. To put that number into perspective, the BBC calculates that US teenagers with hearing loss progressed from 3.5% in 1994 to 5.3% in 2006. Concerts and public transportation pose additional, even more severe risks.
These are sobering figures, especially for those of us who grew up with parents telling us to turn our boomboxes down (not that we ever listened). For many of us, it’s probably too late to avoid permanent damage. For children and young adults who listen to iPods up to 10 hours per day, there’s still some hope to avoid tinnitus and worse. The simplest solution is to simply stop listening to music (which won’t happen). An alternative is to invest in noise-cancelling headphones, which don’t require a higher volume to hear music clearly. Cheaper headphones also lack bass, which causes listeners to turn up the volume and increase high-frequency sounds.
Here’s a set of WHO-recommended safe listening volumes and times (supplemented with data from the U.S. Department of Defense):
* 60 db – normal conversation – 10 hours
* 85 dB – underground station – 8 hours
* 90 dB – lawn mower/heavy traffic – 2 hours 30 minutes
* 95 dB – hand drill – 47 minutes
* 100 dB – intense movie scenes or horn honking – 15 minutes
* 105 dB – mp3 player at maximum volume – 4 minutes
* 115 dB – chainsaw – 28 seconds
* 120 dB – rock concert or sirens – 9 seconds
The WHO also asks governments and businesses to take responsibility by adding “chill-out rooms” and giving out ear plugs at appropriate venues. The American Society for Nutrition further advises that Vitamin C (and other antioxidants) can help people avoid hearing loss, but relying upon a magic pill isn’t a wise gamble. Turn it down, man.