The early terrific (and non-scientific) results

With just one week until Sound Check Australia closes we thought we’d peek into the huge digital vault of data to produce some (non-scientific) early results.

Disclaimer:Please note that these early results have not been scientifically validated – they’re just a taste of the numbers so far.  The really juicy scientific findings will come out after the data is properly validated and analysed.

Citizen science power

Thanks to the almost 7,500 people who took the time to complete the Sound Check Australia survey.     Given the length of the survey, that’s around 3,750 hours spent by Australians (and some international respondents) in providing data for the scientists –the equivalent of one person working 40 hour weeks for 2 years!  That’s the power of citizen science.

There was an excellent spread of participants from all states and territories in Australia.  Roughly 50% were female and 50% male, and their ages ranged from 15 to people in their 90s.

How’s our hearing?

The good news is that 64% of all respondents reported that their hearing was somewhere between good and perfect.  This is a self-reported estimation and the scientists will compare this later on with  the results of the hearing check (the online hearing test).

Perhaps not suprisingly, hearing loss increases with age – the average age of people whose hearing was ‘very poor/could hardly hear’ was 60. While at the other extreme, those with ‘perfect/near perfect’ hearing were on average 32 years old.

While we may think our hearing is in pretty good nick, 40% of respondents also felt they had a hearing loss.  Men were more likely to report that they felt they had a hearing loss than women (44% compared to 36%) but around 1 in 5 people simply didn’t know if they had a hearing loss or not.  Fair enough, hearing is very subjective.

That annoying ringing in your ears – tinnitus – was common amongst participants with 70% experiencing it to some degree.  Almost a quarter of respondents experience tinnitus always or frequently, while just under half experience it occasionally.   Only 30% never had any tinnitus symptoms.

Men seem to suffer more frequently from tinnitus than women – they were more likely to report constant or frequent tinnitus and less likely to say they never experienced tinnitus.

Tinnitus frequency also increased with age. The average age of those reporting they always experienced tinnitus was 50, while it was 40 for those who never had tinnitus.  Interestingly, the average age of those who experience tinnitus occasionally was younger – at around 34.  The researchers will have to delve further into the data to work out why!

Digital addicts

We love listening to audio with our earphones in!  Just over half the survey respondents regularly listened to audio with earbuds or earphones from personal audio devices – mp3 players, phones, ipads, laptops etc.

These people listen to their devices for a staggering 2 hours, 15 minutes each day (on average).  The scientists already report that this stacks up with findings from other current studies. Most commonly, they listened to mp3 players followed by phones and computers.

Perhaps not surprisingly (again), those under 26 listen to their devices for 25% longer than those over 26 (on average).

Most people listen with earbuds in both their ears.  However, sometimes they use just one earbud – and when they do it’s more likely to be in their right ear than their left. 

Who’s most at risk?

So how healthy are our hearing habits? And are our leisure activities putting people at risk of future hearing loss?  To find out we did a rough estimate of noise exposure risk among respondents.

To do this we looked at current participation rates in a limited number of leisure activities – going to nightclubs, live gigs, live sporting events, and the pub; performing in a band or orchestra; doing a fitness class to loud music (such as zumba);  listening to audio with earphones/earbuds;  and using power tools (including gardening tools). 

The amount of time spent in these activities was multiplied by an estimate of the average sound level for each activity to give an individual risk rating. 

The good news is that the majority of people (almost 50%) had a low personal noise exposure rating. 

The not-so-good news is that a significant proportion had a high to very high risk rating – and this was closely correlated with age.  A third of people under 40 were at high risk, compared to only  7% of those over 40.  

This means that the amount of noise they were exposed to from their leisure activities alone exceeded the level of exposure deemed acceptable in the workplace.  Any additional noise exposure further increased their risk for hearing damage. 

Perhaps even more concerning is that this risk rating is likely to underestimate their risk – as it doesn’t include noise exposure at work, from other leisure activities, or from these activities at earlier times in life. 

Now we have to wait…

These early (and non-scientific) results give a taste of what the scientists may discover when they start to analyse the data properly.  Hopefully their research will help us understand hearing health and risk in Australia.

Thanks to everyone who took part  – and if you haven’t signed up for Sound Check Australia yet – it’s open till September 12, 2012!

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  • National Acoustics Lab
  • ABC Science
  • National Science Week 2012
  • Australian Government
  • Inspiring Australia
  • Australian Government