Engaging in video gaming poses a potential threat to one’s hearing, as a recent study reveals the risk of damage due to elevated sound levels during extended gaming sessions. The review emphasizes that gamers often play for prolonged periods with the volume set beyond safe limits, leading to possible irreversible hearing loss or the development of tinnitus—an ongoing ringing sensation in the ears.
Published in BMJ Public Health, the paper scrutinized 14 studies involving over 50,000 individuals. The researchers advocate for increased public health initiatives to raise awareness about these issues among gamers, paralleling efforts undertaken for live music and headphone use.
While adjusting the volume during gameplay could mitigate the risk, the study highlights that part of the problem stems from the extended duration of exposure to high sound volumes. For reference, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults can safely endure 80 decibels (dB) for 40 hours weekly, akin to the noise level of a doorbell. However, beyond this threshold, the permissible exposure time diminishes significantly.
According to WHO guidelines, adults should limit exposure to 90dB to four hours a week and 95dB to one hour and 15 minutes a week. The recommended thresholds for children are even more conservative.
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In one study assessed by researchers, average headphone noise levels in four shooting games were found to range from 88.5 to 91.2dB. Another study indicated that impulse sounds, characterized by short loud bursts such as shooting noises, peaked at 119dB. The research paper also highlighted that, based on three separate studies, boys tended to engage in video gaming more frequently and for longer durations than girls, often at higher volume levels.
Some studies revealed associations between gaming and both hearing loss and tinnitus. These findings relied on a combination of self-reported data and hearing tests for assessment. The authors acknowledge the need for further research to establish a more robust link between gaming and hearing loss, emphasizing the importance of investigating the impact of e-sports, geographic region, sex, and age.
Examining studies dating back to the 1990s, when the gaming landscape differed significantly from today, the authors note that only two papers published in the last decade objectively measured sound levels from video games or gaming centers, particularly popular in Asia.
While the limited available evidence suggests that gaming may be a common source of unsafe listening, the authors call for prioritized interventions such as educational initiatives and increased awareness about the potential risks of gaming to promote safe listening practices among gamers.
Ukie, a gaming industry body, reiterated its encouragement for people to use headphones within safe levels but refrained from providing additional comments on the new study.
Tips for protecting your hearing while gaming
- Turn the volume down – 50% is a good benchmark. Some games let you adjust sound levels for special effects and music
- Take regular breaks – at least 5 minutes every hour – to give your ears a rest
- If you’re gaming in a noisy environment, use noise-cancelling headphones and don’t exceed safe volume limits