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International Study: How the World Hears


The latest study by the Hear the World Foundation reveals gaps in our knowledge surrounding hearing and hearing loss as well as the potential consequences for our ears.

Staefa, February 9th 2016 - Young Americans are exposing themselves to a high risk of losing their hearing with 60% of teenagers and young adults revealing they listen to at least an hour of music a day through headphones, 15% doing so at very high or maximum volumes.

Among the fascinating insights into our listening behavior found in the “How the World Hears” study conducted by the Hear the World Foundation is the revelation that of the 88% of Americans surveyed who agreed that good hearing is important to them, only 9% take steps to always protect themselves from everyday noise. 

Hear the World is a very strong proponent of people taking simple steps to protect against the excessive noise often experienced in daily life and their survey unearthed a low level of public awareness to the long term impact of hearing loss with just 38% of all Americans surveyed aware that hearing loss is irreversible.

Our ears are our most powerful sensory organ but also our most sensitive. They are in use 24 hours a day and have a significant influence on our physical and mental wellbeing. Nevertheless, we often underestimate the significance of hearing in a world dominated by the power of visuals.

The Hear the World Foundation has addressed this issue in a far reaching international study of hearing habits titled “How the World Hears”. The survey shines a spotlight on our listening behavior and how aware we are about hearing and hearing loss.[1]

Key facts at a glance:

  • 60% of the young adults (16-24) surveyed in the US spend at least one hour a day listening to music through their headphones and 34% spend two hours or more. This was only exceeded by young Brazilians, of whom 64% spend at least one hour listening to music through headphones every day with 18% going for four hours.
  • 15% of the young Americans surveyed (16-24) put their hearing at risk by listening to music through headphones at very high to maximum volume. However common sense appears to increase with age: Whereas 11% of 25- to 34-year-olds listen to music at very high to maximum volume, among 35- to 55-year-olds this figure is just 5%. Germany and Brazil lead the way in the 16-24 age group with 18% and 16% respectively listening to music and very loud volume.
  • Only 9% of US respondents said that they always protect their ears from everyday noise (including traffic, aircrafts and building sites), for example by wearing earplugs or covering their ears. 24% of those surveyed do this only occasionally and 68% never protect their ears. At just 8%, the Swiss were the least likely to protect themselves from everyday noise.
  • 58% of the Americans surveyed consider good hearing to be very important, with 30% deeming it simply to be important. The Brazilians seemed to be the most health conscious in this respect, with 86% saying that good hearing is very important to them. This stands in great contrast to their listening behavior. 
  • Only 38% of the Americans surveyed were aware that hearing loss is irreversible. The lowest levels of awareness are found in China, where only 14% know that damaged hair cells in the inner ear cannot be repaired. 
  • In all countries surveyed, there was great uncertainty as to whether or not hearing loss was age-related. 15% of the Americans surveyed speculated that hearing loss is something that only impacts on the elderly, with 22% saying that hearing loss can affect anyone. The fact is that the aging process is indeed the most frequent cause of hearing loss, with over half of us suffering from hearing loss by the time we reach 80. The second most common cause of hearing loss is everyday noise, something that people can easily protect themselves from.

“The results of this survey are very concerning, although based on my clinical experiences with children and young adults, I am not at all surprised,” said Jace Wolfe, PhD, Director of Audiology and Research, Hearts for Hearing Foundation, Oklahoma City, OK. “We routinely see teenagers with hearing loss that was formerly only seen in middle-aged and elderly persons or people who work in industrial or military environments with high-level noise. The configuration of their hearing loss strongly points toward noise as the cause, and when queried about their otologic history, they almost invariably report that they frequently listen to music at high levels under earphones. “I must say, however, that I am very encouraged that this survey found a direct link between people’s listening behaviors and their awareness of hearing loss and the dangers of high-level noise exposure,” he commented. “Obviously, it is imperative that healthcare professionals raise awareness of the importance of good hearing and of hearing preservation in order to prevent unnecessary hearing loss and the permanent, life-altering effects associated with it.”  

Important tips for protecting your ears:

  • Keep the volume down: A noise level of less than 85 dB is considered safe for our ears. When listening to music on audio devices, keep the level no louder than 60% of the maximum volume.
  • Listen to music through headphones that fit well and decrease the ambient noise, this allows you to enjoy it at lower volumes, also in noisy surroundings.
  • Wear earplugs at concerts, in discos, and in other noisy places. Protection can reduce the noise level by 5 to 45 dB.
  • Use smartphone apps that measure ambient noise levels.
  • Give your ears a rest, put in acoustic breaks in your everyday and turn off all sources of noise.
  • Have your hearing checked regularly by a specialist.

Feel free to use the infographic (pdf) for your coverage including Copyright „Hear the World Foundation“.
You can find further information on the study and on hearing and hearing loss at

About the Hear the World Foundation

By supporting the charitable Hear the World Foundation, Sonova is campaigning for equal opportunities and a better quality of life for people with hearing loss. As a leading manufacturer of hearing care solutions, the company feels socially responsible for contributing towards a world where everyone has the chance to enjoy good hearing. For instance, the Hear the World Foundation supports disadvantaged people with hearing loss around the world and gets involved in prevention and providing information. It focuses particularly on projects for children with hearing loss, to enable them to develop at the appropriate rate for their age. More than 90 famous ambassadors, including celebrities such as Plácido Domingo, Annie Lennox, Sting and Joss Stone, champion the Hear the World Foundation.

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[1] The “How the World Hears” study was conducted by the market research institute “Research Now”, which surveyed a total of 5’000 people between the ages of 16-to-55 in the U.S., Germany, Switzerland, Brazil and China between September and November 2015

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