Gamers at risk of hearing loss

2 minute read

Video games are pushing the limit on safe volume levels, potentially causing irreversible damage to millions of young people’s hearing each day.

Can you hear me, Player One? Your hearing’s gone, there’s something wrong.

Listening to loud music for extended periods of time – through headphones, the radio or at a disco – has been the poster child for irreversible hearing loss.

In contrast, video games have typically been associated with a different warning (“Don’t sit too close to the TV, or your eyes will go square”) and received less attention in terms of causing hearing issues.

Now, a new systematic scoping review, published in BMJ Public Health, has concluded video games also put gamers at an increased risk of developing permanent sound-induced hearing loss or tinnitus.

The review included 50,000 individuals from 14 peer-reviewed studies conducted in nine countries including Australia, the United States, Germany, South Korea and China.

Four cohort studies linked gaming – either at home with headphones or at a gaming centre (like an internet café) – with adverse outcomes such as bilateral high-frequency hearing loss and aural fullness (feeling like your ears are blocked).

In addition, one Italian observational study reported the average sound level from five popular shooting and racing games was 87.7 dB, concluding that the daily sound exposure from video games almost exceeds the maximum permissible levels of sound exposure defined by the World Health Organization and the International Telecommunications Union.

The same study also reported the average peak sound pressure level for the five games was 114.6 dB – a similar decibel level to being at a rock concert.

Many gamers prefer wearing headphones or a headset while playing, often at unsafe volume levels, which further increases the risk of developing sound-induced hearing loss.

Researchers hope the findings lead to changes in preventative measures and policy measures moving forward.

“There may be a need to prioritise interventions, such as initiatives focused on education and awareness of the potential risks of gaming, that can help promote safe listening among gamers,” they wrote.

The Australia Plays 2023 report, produced by the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association in collaboration with Bond University researchers, reveals 81% of all Australians play video games (a 14% increase from the previous report) and spend an average of 90 minutes per day playing on their phone, computer or gaming console – placing a huge number of (young) people at risk of damaging their hearing.

BMJ Public Health 2024, online January 17

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