Gamers could be at risk of irreversible hearing loss and tinnitus, according to new research.
A review of worldwide studies involving more than 50,000 people concluded that sound levels are often close to or exceed safe limits.
The risk is exacerbated by people typically gaming for long periods of time while impulse noises – such as gunfire – can also be very loud, experts said.
The study, published in medical journal BMJ Public Health, was conducted by a team including experts from the World Health Organisation and the University of South Carolina.
They warned “gamers who are listening at high-intensity sound levels and for long periods of time may be at risk of permanent sound-induced hearing loss and/ or tinnitus”.
More needs to be done to highlight the risks of gaming, given its popularity among children and teenagers, the researchers said.
They added: “Findings suggest that there may be a need to prioritise interventions, such as initiatives focused on education and awareness of the risks of gaming, that can help promote safe listening among gamers.”
The study pointed to guidelines outlining the “permissible” time people should be exposed to 83 decibels (dB) of sound is 20 hours per week.
This drops to 10 hours per week for 86dB and just 38 minutes per week for 98dB.
For children, noise exposure levels are lower – 75dB for 40 hours a week.
Under this marker, children can safely listen to 83db sound for around 6.5 hours – and 98dB for just 12 minutes.
However, on average, sound levels are often close to or above this range, the data showed.
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The team called for more research to be conducted: “The limited available experience suggests that gaming may be a common source of unsafe listening, which could place many individuals worldwide at risk of permanent hearing loss/tinnitus.
“Additional research on these relationships is needed along with steps to promote safe listening among gamers.”
How loud is too loud?
According to hearing loss charity the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), some 12 million people in the UK are deaf or have hearing loss or tinnitus.
Hearing loss can be triggered by repeated or long exposure to sounds above 85dB, the equivalent of the noise created by a food blender.
The safe exposure for this level of noise is up to eight hours a day, the RNID says.
Heavy traffic is 88dB while a pneumatic drill is 91dB and the sound at a live concert is 110dB.
An aeroplane taking off from around 100m away creates 130dB.
According to the charity, 140dB is the sound level which causes pain for most people, however lower levels can also lead to discomfort.
The sound intensity doubles with every 3dB increase – so the safe exposure time is four hours for 88dB.
“Remember that you’re exposed to lots of different sounds that are 85dB or over throughout the day, and this exposure time adds up,” the RNID warns.
“For sounds of 110-120dB, even a very short exposure time can cause hearing damage.”
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