New Study Finds Loud Video Games Linked To Hearing Loss Over Time


Engaging in loud activities like attending concerts isn’t the sole contributor to potential hearing loss over time.

Lead study author, Lauren Dillard, PhD, AuD, an audiologist at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston and a consultant for the World Health Organization said,

“Video games are often played for long periods of time and at high sound levels.”

“Permissible levels of sound exposure are based on both the duration of listening and the loudness of the sounds. Therefore, the longer people game for and the louder the volume, the more likely they are to be at risk of hearing loss,” Dr. Dillard adds.

A recent study indicates that individuals who spend extensive hours immersed in video gaming may also face an elevated risk of hearing impairments.

Researchers delved into the relationship between gaming duration, noise levels generated by games, and the likelihood of future hearing issues. Analyzing data from 14 previously conducted studies encompassing over 53,000 participants, they sought to unravel the impact of gaming on auditory health.

These studies took diverse approaches, examining various types of sounds emitted from sources like headphones, mobile phones, home entertainment systems, and dedicated gaming establishments. Although each study had its unique focus, collectively they highlighted video gaming as a distinct potential contributor to hearing loss, as reported in BMJ Public Health.

Noise Levels of Video Games

Noise levels in video games exhibited considerable variation, ranging from approximately 43 decibels for mobile devices to over 80 decibels for dedicated gaming centers. To contextualize, regular conversation registers around 60 decibels, while the interior noise of city traffic in a car can reach between 80 and 85 decibels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Exposure to video game noise varied widely, from several hours daily to as infrequent as once a month. According to the researchers, adults are susceptible to hearing damage when exposed to volumes surpassing 80 decibels for more than 40 hours weekly.

However, the risk escalates with higher volumes, where hearing damage can occur more rapidly. For instance, exposure to 83-decibel sounds is deemed safe for only 20 hours weekly, and at 98 decibels, safety limits diminish to just 38 minutes weekly.

Children face a risk of hearing damage with even shorter exposure to lower volume sounds. For instance, exposure exceeding 40 hours weekly to noises above 75 decibels can induce damage. They can safely tolerate 83-decibel sounds for just 6.5 hours weekly and handle 98-decibel sounds for no more than 12 minutes weekly.

Studies highlighted sudden sound bursts in video games, reaching as high as 119 decibels in one instance, significantly exceeding safety levels for children.

Associations were observed between gaming during childhood and adolescent and heightened risks of hearing loss. Gaming centers akin to karaoke clubs for e-sports were particularly implicated, correlating with increased odds of severe tinnitus and high-frequency hearing loss in both ears.

A study analyzing the sound levels emitted by video games when played through headphones discovered a range of approximately 85 to 91 decibels.

The Potential Risk of Hearing Loss Associated with Video Games

Several studies date back to the 1990s, potentially indicating differences in noise levels or exposure duration compared to contemporary games. Moreover, most recent studies analyzed did not objectively measure the average sound levels from video games or gaming centers.

Nevertheless, Dillard emphasizes that these findings underscore the importance for gamers to acknowledge the potential risk of hearing loss. This awareness is crucial because prolonged exposure to loud sounds can lead to fatigue in the sensory cells of the ear, resulting in temporary hearing loss or tinnitus.

“While these sensations may resolve in a few days as the sensory cells recover, regular or prolonged exposure to noise can build up and result in permanent hearing loss over time,” Dr. Dillard says.

Jennifer Derebery, MD, Chief Research Officer at the House Institute Foundation in Los Angeles, suggests that individuals who play video games at home can mitigate the risk of hearing loss by either lowering the volume on speakers or using headphones specifically engineered to diminish noise exposure.

Dr. Derebery, who wasn’t involved in the new study, says, “In general, it’s better to use speakers and not use headphones” to reduce the risk of hearing loss.

She also advises that when people use speakers, whether at home or in a gaming center, they can use protective earplugs to limit their noise exposure as well.

To mitigate risks, individuals can adjust speaker volumes or utilize headphones designed to minimize noise exposure. Seeking medical advice upon noticing symptoms of hearing loss is paramount, emphasizes Colleen Le Prell, PhD, Head of the Department of Speech Language and Hearing at the University of Texas at Dallas.

“Anyone who notices a perception of ringing in their ears, ears that feel `full,’ sound seeming muffled, or increased difficulty understanding speech or other sounds has likely caused damage to their ears. This damage may recover with a period of relative quiet, or the damage could be permanent,” says Dr. Le Prell, who notably, wasn’t involved in the new study.