A new review of existing research, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), warns that video gamers who are listening to high-intensity sound levels for long periods of time may be risking permanent hearing loss and tinnitus.
Whereas headphones, earbuds, and music venues have been recognised as sources of potentially unsafe sound levels, the review of available research, conducted by a team including experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the University of South Carolina, has focused on the overlooked area of the effects of video games, including e-sports, on hearing loss.
Video Gamers – Sound Exceeding Safe Limits
The researchers conducting the review concluded that sound levels reported in studies of video of more than 50,000 video gamers often near (or exceed) permissible safe limits. Given that there are an estimated 3 billion gamers worldwide in 2022, the research, the researchers feel that greater public health efforts are needed to raise awareness of the potential risks.
What’s The Cause?
The researchers say that the hearing loss and tinnitus risks are the result of video gamers often playing at high-intensity sound levels and for several hours at a time. For example, after reviewing 14 studies from 9 countries, researchers found reported sound levels ranged from 43.2 decibels (dB) (mobile devices) up to 80-89 dB (gaming centres). Impulse sounds in some games were also found to have reached levels as high as 119 dB during game-play, and the researchers also found that the length of noise exposure varied by mode and frequency of access from least an hour at a time to an averaging of 3 hours/week.
The Role of Headphones
The role of headphones in hearing damage risk to gamers was also highlighted by the researchers. For example, in one piece of source research, the author concluded that gaming headphones can reach unsafe listening levels, “which could place some gamers at risk of sound-induced hearing loss.”
The researchers also highlighted studies such as:
– One study where the sound levels of 5 video games through headphones attached to the gaming console, were found to average 88.5, 87.6, 85.6 and 91.2 dB for 4 separate shooter games, and 85.6 dB for a racing game.
– One study reported that over 10 million people in the USA may be exposed to ‘loud’ or ‘very loud’ sound levels from video or computer games.
What’s Are The Permissible Levels?
Permissible exposure limits to impulse sounds in video games (less than 1 second) are around 100 dB for children and 130–140 dB for adults. Also, the permissible noise exposure level for children is defined as 75 dB for 40 hours a week. Therefore, the researchers concluded that the daily level of sound exposure from video games is close to maximum permissible levels of sound exposure
What’s The Risk?
Five studies reviewed by the researchers looked at associations between gaming and self-reported hearing loss, hearing thresholds, or tinnitus. Of these 5, 2 studies found that school pupils’ gaming centre usage was linked to increased odds of severe tinnitus and high-frequency sound hearing loss in both ears. Another large observational study also reported that video gaming was associated with increased odds of self-reported hearing loss severity.
Tinnitus is a condition characterised by hearing ringing, buzzing, or other noises in the ears and although, for some, it may be a mild background noise, for others, it can lead to concentration difficulties, sleep problems, and significant distress, affecting emotional well-being and quality of life.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Although gaming is a huge industry supported by 3 billion gamers worldwide (2022), the alleged negative aspects of video games have been the source of news stories, including social withdrawal, aggressive behaviour or desensitisation to violence, mental health concerns, addiction and more. This new review of existing studies adds the risk of hearing loss or tinnitus caused by prolonged exposure to loud video games while wearing headphones to the list. It highlights not just an overlooked area of risk in a much focused-on activity, but also the danger of unsafe listening practices, and perhaps an area where games producers need to study how they reduce the risk, such as changing aspects of the games, educating the gaming community, and more.
It’s been noted that there are, however, still several key gaps in the available evidence about a possible link between hearing damage and gaming, e.g. the impact of esports, geographic region, sex, and age, and that further research may now be essential to inform preventive measures and global policy initiatives. As the researchers conclude, the findings suggest “interventions” may now be needed, e.g. initiatives focused on education and awareness of the potential risks of gaming that can help promote safe listening among gamers.
However, for gamers (who mostly play in the confines of their own room, i.e. in an unmonitored and unregulated environment) and who may be caught up in the game and in competition with others, physical-risk may be the last thing on their minds. This is also often the case in competitive sports which, although more beneficial to overall health, also bring the risk of serious, lasting physical injury.
The risk of hearing damage when listening to music (such as at home, at concerts, or in clubs) is also a source of risk, particularly to hearing which has long been highlighted but is routinely ignored by music fans. That said, the news of the findings of this review has, however, raised some awareness about this overlooked risk of video games and prompted conversations about what needs to be done to help. It’s worth noting here that despite these legitimate concerns about hearing, and the other negative aspects of video gaming, there is also research to suggest that video gaming (at a sensible volume) offers many benefits, including cognitive development, improved coordination and motor skills, stress relief, and more.