Video Gaming May be Putting Players at Risk for Hearing Loss

Video gaming is popular the world over, but a recent study shows that gamers may be putting their hearing at risk. Here are some tips to help gamers reduce the risk of hearing loss while enjoying the game.

If you play video games, or you have kids or grandkids who do, you may want to listen up! According to a recent study published in the open access medical journal BMJ Public Health, wearing headphones or earbuds while gaming may put players at risk for irreversible hearing loss and/or tinnitus. That’s because studies suggest game sound levels are often near or exceed safe limits.

Given the popularity of gaming, one estimate indicated there were more than 3 billion gamers worldwide in 2022, public health efforts are being directed at raising awareness of potential risks to hearing.

Gamers often play at high-intensity sound levels and for several hours at a time, the study added. Reported sound levels ranged from 43.2 decibels (dB) (mobile devices) up to 80-89 dB (gaming centers) while length of noise exposure varied by mode and frequency of access–from daily to once a month, for at least an hour at a time, averaging three hours a week.

Impulse sounds consist of bursts lasting less than 1 second, with peak levels at least 15 dB higher than the background sound. One study reported that impulse sounds reached levels as high as 119 dB during game play; permissible exposure limits are around 100 dB for children and 130–140 dB for adults.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in collaboration with the World Health Organization, describes a time–intensity trade-off, known as an exchange rate, for permissible levels and duration of exposure.

For children, the permissible noise exposure level is defined as 75 dB for 40 hours a week. Children can therefore safely listen to an 83 dB sound for around 6.5 hours, 86 dB for around 3.25 hours, 92 dB for 45 minutes, and 98 dB for only 12 minutes a week, explained the researchers.

Other studies, including one from the United States, reported that more than 10 million people may be exposed to loud or very loud sound levels from video or computer games.

One study measured sound levels of 5 video games through headphones attached to the gaming console, and found that these averaged 88.5, 87.6, 85.6 and 91.2 dB for 4 separate shooter games, and 85.6 dB for a racing game.

This led the authors to conclude that the daily level of sound exposure from these video games is close to the maximum permissible sound exposure levels.

Tips to Limit Noise Exposure

Clearly, video gaming and e-sports are popular pastimes the world over, so how can children and adults safely enjoy these activities?

Choose the right headset

  • Choose a gaming headset that fits well, blocks out external noise, and has good sound quality. Avoid earbuds or inexpensive headphones that can cause ear fatigue or irritation. A gaming headset should have a comfortable cushion, a flexible microphone, and a volume control. You should also look for features like noise cancellation, surround sound, and wireless connectivity.

Adjust the volume

  • Adjust the volume of the headset to a safe level. Don’t blast your ears with loud sounds that can damage your hearing. You also don’t want to strain your ears to hear the game sounds or teammates. A good rule of thumb is to set the volume at a level where you can hear the game clearly, but still hear someone talking to you in the same room. You can also use a sound meter app to measure the decibel level of your headset. Ideally, the level should be below 85 decibels, which is the recommended limit for occupational noise exposure.

Take breaks

  • Some gamers play for hours on end. It’s a good idea to take breaks from gaming every hour or so to give your ears and your eyes a break.

Protect your ears

  • Protect your ears from other sources of noise that can affect your hearing. Don’t expose your ears to loud music, concerts, fireworks, traffic, or machinery that can cause permanent hearing loss. You also don’t want to ignore any signs of hearing problems, such as ringing, buzzing, or muffled sounds in your ears. Wear earplugs or earmuffs when you are in noisy environments, and visit an audiologist if you have any concerns about your hearing.

Don’t take your hearing for granted

  • Don’t take your hearing for granted or assume that it will always be fine. Parents may need to supervise play, especially for younger gamers. You also don’t want to be unaware of the prevention and treatment options that are available for hearing loss. If you notice you’re having problems with your hearing, see a doctoral-level audiologist who can evaluate your hearing and can offer additional recommendations to help prevent hearing loss.
  • If you are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss through your occupation or recreation, consider a hearing examination to establish a baseline and to get acquainted with an audiologist for recommendations and regular monitoring.

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