NFDHH launched the screening pilot earlier this year to determine the potential risk of non-occupational noise-induced hearing loss in New Zealand adolescents. It has carried out screenings in three high schools – Rutherford College, Manurewa High School and Queen Charlotte College with other schools scheduled. Of the 479 year 9 pupils screened, 162 had an abnormal hearing screening result – that is 34 per cent, or one in three students. At Manurewa High School, it soared to 46 per cent - 35 of the 76 pupils. Alarmingly most students were using either headphones or ear buds to listen to their devices. At Manurewa College alone, 28 per cent of all pupils screened said they listened to music at maximum volume for more than three hours a day. WHO recommends youths are not exposed to maximum levels for more than six minutes per week.

“We wanted to determine if New Zealand is mirroring global youth hearing loss trends,” Gallardo says. “Globally one in five young adults have some form of hearing loss. That is a 30 per cent increase from the 1990s. And nearly 50% of people aged 12-35 years old listen to unsafe levels of sound, through personal devices.” WHO projections suggest that unless action is taken, there will be 630 million people living with disabling hearing loss by the year 2030, with that number expected to grow to over 900 million by 2050.

NFDHH intends to lobby the Government for mandatory hearing screening of high school pupils as currently there are no compulsory checks after pre-school monitoring. “We need a national programme to assess just how extreme youth hearing loss rates are, and identify children that are at risk early, as prevention and early detection are key,” Gallardo says. Meanwhile, WHO says acceptable daily sound levels work like a monetary allowance: you have a limited amount to spend each day. The louder or longer you are exposed to high levels of sound, the more you “spend”, the faster you run out of your allowance. Safe listening levels depend on the intensity (loudness), duration (length of time) and frequency (how often) of the exposure. The highest safe sound level is 75 decibels up to a maximum of eight hours. So you could be exposed to the same level of loudness in 15 minutes of music at 100 dB as an industrial worker gets in an eight-hour day at 85 dB.

How to spot someone who may have hearing loss: • They turn the TV volume up louder than you would  • They miss parts of the conversation, and ask you to repeat it  • They lean forward with an ear towards the sound.

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