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Loud Video Games Put Users at Risk for Hearing Loss, Tinnitus
  • Posted January 17, 2024

Loud Video Games Put Users at Risk for Hearing Loss, Tinnitus

For the more than 3 billion gamers around the world, the loud noises they experience while playing video games could threaten their hearing, a new review suggests.

Whether on the couch, parked at a computer desk or in an arcade, studies have shown the noise from video games often exceeds levels deemed safe for a person's hearing, according to the report published Jan. 16 in the journal BMJ Public Health.

The data in the review "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,"wrote the researchers, led by Lauren Dillard, a postdoctoral fellow with the Medical University of South Carolina.

Therefore, some gamers are "engaging in unsafe listening practices, which could put them at risk for developing permanent hearing loss and/or tinnitus [ringing in the ears],"the researchers concluded in a journal news release.

For the review, researchers evaluated 14 studies from nine countries around the world, involving nearly 54,000 people.

The type of gaming under study tended to differ based on the region in which research took place. For example, studies in Asia focused on arcades and personal computer rooms, while research elsewhere focused on home computer and video games.

More than 10 million people in the United States might be regularly exposed to "loud"or "very loud"sound levels coming from video or computer games, one study reported.

Sound levels of five video games through headphones attached to a gaming console often came close to the maximum permissible levels of sound exposure, another study found.

Decibel levels averaged 88.5, 87.6, 85.6 and 91.2 dB for four separate shooter games, and 85.6 dB for a racing game, researchers found.

Those readings range close to the permissible noise exposure level for children, which is 75 decibels for 40 hours a week, as well as the adult level of 80 decibels for 40 hours a week, the researchers said.

Noise intensity is calculated based both on decibel level and exposure time -- the louder the sound, the less time a person should be exposed to it.

Children can therefore safely listen to an 83-decibel sound for around 6.5 hours a week, 86 decibels for around 3.25 hours, 92 decibels for 45 minutes, and 98 decibels for only 12 minutes a week.

By the same token, safe adult exposure levels would be 83 decibels for 20 hours a week, 86 decibels for 10 hours, 92 decibels for 2.5 hours, and 98 decibels for 38 minutes.

Video games also come close to the limits set for exposure to short bursts of noise, which is around 100 decibels for children and 130 to 140 decibels for adults.

Arcade noise levels can reach as high as 119 decibels during game play, and average between 80 and 89 decibels, studies showed.

Five studies in the review evaluated potential links between gaming and self-reported hearing loss or tinnitus.

Of those five, two studies found that students' arcade gameplay was linked to increased odds of severe tinnitus and high-frequency hearing loss in both ears.

Another reported that video gaming was associated with increased odds of self-reported hearing loss severity.

However, the researchers noted that studies on this subject are limited. For instance, only two studies published in the past decade objectively measured average sound levels from video games or at arcades.

The team called for further research to fully assess the threat to hearing posed by video games.

"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,"the researchers suggested.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about noise exposure.

SOURCE: BMJ, news release, Jan. 16, 2024

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