People who play video games may be at an increased risk of permanent hearing loss and tinnitus due to unsafe sound levels.
Unsafe listening, or recreational exposure to high-intensity sounds, is recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an important risk factor for hearing loss.
As gaming has become one of the most popular leisure activities worldwide, with an estimated three billion gamers in 2022, researchers looked at the possible link between unsafe sound levels from video games and hearing loss.
The systematic review published in the BMJ Public Health assessed 14 studies in which individuals played video games three hours a week on average, with measured sound levels of video games nearly exceeding or exceeding permissible sound exposure limits.
For example, one study found that average headphone noise levels in shooter games ranged between 88.5 and 91.2dB, peaking up to 118.7 dB.
According to the WHO, adults can be safely exposed to an average volume of 80dB, similar to a doorbell ringing, for up to 40 hours a week. Sounds at a volume of 90dB, such as shouted conversation, can be safely listened to for four hours a week.
In another experiment reviewed, 30 individuals played a shooter game using headphones set to their preferred listening levels, ranging from 60 to 90 dB.
Research also shows that males play video games more frequently, for longer periods, and at higher-intensity sound levels, making them more vulnerable to irreversible hearing loss.
The study's authors acknowledge that the evidence on the link between gaming and hearing loss and/or tinnitus is limited, emphasizing the need for further research.
Tinnitus is the perception of sound that does not have an external source, affecting about 10 to 25% of adults. It is usually defined as a ringing sound, but some people may hear roaring or buzzing. The causes of tinnitus are unknown, but the condition is often accompanied by some degree of hearing loss.
The authors conclude that "gaming may be a common source of unsafe listening, which could place many individuals worldwide at risk of hearing loss and/or tinnitus."
Early signs of hearing loss
Exposure to high-intensity sounds among young people can make them more vulnerable to developing age-related hearing loss later in life, the study notes.
Therefore, it is important to recognize early signs of sound-induced hearing loss, which include the following:
- Temporary or permanent tinnitus without an external stimulus.
- Hyperacusis, which is an enhanced sensitivity to sound.
- Difficulties understanding speech, particularly when background noise is present.
Exposure to high-intensity sounds has been linked to "hidden hearing loss," which can present as the symptoms described above.
With gaming only increasing in popularity, more research is needed to understand how it can impact hearing.
- BMJ Public Health. Risk of sound-induced hearing loss from exposure to video gaming or esports: a systematic scoping review.
- The World Health Organization. Deafness and hearing loss: Safe listening.
- National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Tinnitus.