World Hearing Day: Safe listening

World Hearing Day is commemorated on March 3, with the purpose of raising awareness among people about how to prevent deafness and hearing loss, as well as promoting hearing health worldwide.


The 2023 theme: “Ear and hearing care for all”


The theme proposed by the World Health Organization (WHO) for this year is “Ear and hearing care for all.” The goal is to highlight the importance of integrating ear and hearing care into primary care as an essential component of universal health coverage.


It is important to note that ear and hearing problems are very common worldwide. More than 60% of these problems can be identified and addressed at the primary care level.


Integration of ear and hearing care into primary care services is possible through training and capacity building at this level. Such integration will benefit individuals and help countries move towards the goal of universal health coverage.


To that end, WHO will launch the “Training manual on ear and hearing care in primary care for health workers and general practitioners.”


How do sounds affect the ears?


If we have the ability to hear, it is thanks to the sensory cells in our ears. However, exposure to loud sounds can damage them over time and cause a temporary hearing loss or ringing in the ears called tinnitus.


A hearing loss or ringing in the ears may be experienced after attending a loud concert, but usually disappears as the sensory cells recover. However, regular exposure to loud or prolonged noise can cause irreversible damage to these cells and other structures, resulting in permanent hearing loss or tinnitus. Therefore, hearing loss caused by noise occurs.


Although noise can affect hearing immediately, as can sudden, intense sound, more commonly the loss is gradual and irreversible. The problem is that this wear and tear often goes unnoticed until its effects become more apparent. At first, some high-pitched sounds, such as bells or birdsong, may be difficult to hear, and as hearing becomes less audible, communication difficulties begin to be encountered, especially in noisy places such as restaurants and markets.


How can we protect ourselves from loud sounds?


The concept of “safe listening” refers to ways of listening that do not endanger hearing.


The factors that affect hearing are the volume, duration and frequency of exposure to loud sounds. The risk increases with volume and duration; for example, 80 decibels (dB) of sound can be heard safely for up to 40 hours a week. However, when the sound level is 90 dB, safe listening time is only 12.5 hours per week. To protect hearing, it is recommended:


  1. Do not turn up the volume too high. At most, it is convenient to adjust it to 60% of the maximum offered by the device. It is advisable not to exceed an average of 80 dB. For this purpose, you can use applications that help you control the volume.
  2. Use noise-cancelling headphones (earphones) and adjust them well so as not to have to turn up the volume in noisy places.
  3. In noisy places, protect your ears, for example with earplugs.
  4. Keep your distance from sound sources, such as loudspeakers, noisy machines, etc.
  5. Limit the time spent in activities that generate a lot of noise and, if it is necessary to be exposed to loud sounds, take frequent breaks to allow the sensory cells in the ears to recover.
  6. Control noise levels. For this purpose, cell phone applications can be used and devices can be chosen that are equipped with functions that allow exposure to be controlled.
  7. Recognize the warning signs of hearing loss. If you notice a persistent ringing in the ear (tinnitus), hear less high-pitched sounds or find it difficult to follow conversations, consult a professional.


By: Juan Carlos Ugarelli

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