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Video gamers may be at risk of irreversible hearing loss 

A new study published in the journal BMJ Public Health has raised serious concerns about the potential risks of irreversible hearing loss and tinnitus among video gamers. 

The study emphasizes that sound levels in video games often approach or exceed safe limits, highlighting an urgent need for increased public health efforts to raise awareness about these risks.

Extensive analysis 

The comprehensive review involved an extensive analysis of various research and grey literature, including 14 peer-reviewed studies from nine countries. 

These studies ranged from cohort observations to those focusing on specific devices and gaming environments, and involved 53,833 individuals.

Alarming findings 

One alarming finding was the reported sound levels, which varied significantly depending on the gaming medium. For example, sound levels from mobile devices were found to be around 43.2 decibels (dB), whereas those in gaming centers reached a staggering 80-89 dB. 

In addition, impulse sounds during gameplay were reported to reach levels as high as 119 dB, far exceeding the permissible exposure limits set for children and adults.

Safe noise levels

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in collaboration with the World Health Organization, has established a time–intensity trade-off to determine safe levels of noise exposure. 

According to this guideline, the permissible noise exposure level is 80 dB for 40 hours per week for adults, with the exposure time halving with every 3 dB increase in noise level. For children, the safe level is defined as 75 dB for the same duration.

The review also highlighted the prevalence of video gaming among young people, with studies reporting a range from 20% to 68%. Notably, two South Korean studies indicated that around 60% of young people frequented gaming centers.

Five studies specifically evaluated the link between gaming and hearing-related issues. Two of these found a significant association between gaming center use by school pupils and increased odds of severe tinnitus and high-frequency sound hearing loss. Another large observational study linked video gaming with increased self-reported hearing loss severity.

Excessive sound exposure 

One study that measured sound levels from video games through headphones attached to gaming consoles found that the average sound levels for various games were dangerously close to the maximum permissible sound exposure levels.

An additional 16 peer-reviewed articles and 14 grey literature sources identified gaming as a potential source of excessive sound exposure. One grey literature study focusing on gamers’ preferred listening levels concluded that gaming headphones often reach unsafe levels, potentially leading to sound-induced hearing loss.

The review also examined gender differences in gaming behaviors, revealing that boys tend to play video games more frequently, for longer periods, and at higher sound intensity levels than girls.

Further research is needed 

Despite the compelling evidence presented, the researchers acknowledge certain limitations in their study, such as the scarcity of recent data objectively measuring sound levels in video games and gaming centers. They emphasized the need for further research to address key gaps in the existing evidence.

“Although the data provided in this review are limited, they suggest that some gamers, particularly those who play frequently, and at or above the average sound levels described by papers included in this review, probably exceed permissible sound exposure limits, and are thus engaging in unsafe listening practices, which could put them at risk for developing permanent hearing loss and/or tinnitus,” wrote the study authors.

“The findings suggest that there may be a need to prioritize interventions, such as initiatives focused on education and awareness of the potential risks of gaming, that can help promote safe listening among gamers.”

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