WHO adds personal listening habits to guidelines on how noise affects health

For the first time, the World Health Organization (WHO) has included ambient noise from leisure-time activities in its guidelines on how cumulative exposure to high volumes can lead to health problems, including stress, hypertension and heart disease.

The guidelines note that noise pollution doesn’t just come from environmental factors like road traffic and airplanes flying overhead; it also comes from choices to crank up one’s headphones or attend loud concerts.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, the WHO estimates 1.1 billion young people worldwide could be at risk of hearing loss from dangerous listening habits. Nearly half of individuals 12 to 35 years old in middle- and high-income countries listen to “unsafe levels of sound” through personal listening devices, the guidelines suggest.

One previous study found noise pollution is tied to a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, while another highlighted an association between hearing loss and cardiovascular disease in the elderly.

The WHO recommends noise from leisure activities shouldn’t exceed an average of 70 decibels per day.

“This is equivalent to listening to a television at normal volume all day and all night throughout the year,” Stephen Stansfeld, who chaired the writing group for the new guidelines, told the Wall Street Journal. “Not saying that you are going to do that, but your exposure to noise should average out at this level.”

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