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Oman health: Are you going deaf?

by Swati Dasgupta / Today many youngsters are losing their hearing at alarming rates owing to the excessive noise exposure from portable stereo earphones. - Shutterstock

THEY can be seen almost everywhere. Whether on roads, in theatres and shopping malls, or while driving, people are always seen with earphones, either listening to music or having a conversation while using their hands-free set. The growing addiction for these portable devices has raised serious concerns among audiologists and ear specialists, worldwide.

According to a press release issue by WHO last year, some 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at a risk of hearing loss owing to the unsafe use of personal audio devices, including smartphones, and exposure to damaging levels of sound at noisy entertainment venues. Hearing loss has potentially devastating consequences for physical and mental health, as mentioned in the report.

Raising concerns on this pertinent issue Dr Benaifer Bilimoria, ENT at Atlas Hospital, Al Ghubra, says, "Personal sound systems have become so overwhelmingly popular that it seems almost everywhere you go, you see people of all ages tuned into what they want to hear and tuned out of the world around them."

She says that while earlier a leading cause of hearing impairments used to be excessive noise exposure in the workplace, today many young people are losing their hearing at alarming rates owing to the excessive noise exposure from portable stereo earphones.

She believes that headphones and earphones appear to be the most damaging.

Since noise-induced hearing loss is a result of intensity (loudness) and duration of exposure, these devices may be capable of inducing a permanent bilateral sensorineural hearing loss -- especially if they are used at a volume setting of four or above for extended periods.

While hearing loss remains to be the major side effect of these devices there are some other harmful effects too if used without caution.

"Some patients complain of migraine headaches while others experience ear buzzing, in which they have a hot and intense air like feeling in the ears. It occurs due to fatigue cochlea, which plays an important role in auditory processing. Cochlear fatigue that occurs continuously and is not addressed promptly can lead to persistent hearing loss," informs Dr Benaifer Bilimoria, while talking about other implications.

Some social issues like depression, being shut off from society, lack of social etiquettes also happen as patients go into their own cocoon, she adds.

But how much hearing loss do earphones cause?

According to specialists the quantum of hearing loss depends on the duration, and also at the level at which the music player is set. If the volume is turned up to about 90 per cent of maximum, and one listens for two hours a day for five days a week, a significant amount of hearing loss can be experienced in a span of 10 years.

Experts feel that it's not just the device that's causing the problem. The different level of use compared to what it used to be in the past has added on to the problem.

Dr Etienne Krug, WHO Director for the Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention, said in a report that "More and more young people are placing themselves at risk of hearing loss. They should be aware that once you lose your hearing, it won't come back. Taking simple preventive actions will allow people to continue to enjoy themselves without putting their hearing at risk."

So how much is too much?

According to the research, as many as 25 per cent of earphone users are damaging their ears because of bad listening habits. A good measure for how loud is too loud they say is if you're standing across an elevator cab -- that's about three feet away -- if you can hear someone else's music, that person is giving themselves a hearing loss.

So how to protect one's ears?

WHO recommends that the highest permissible level of noise exposure in the workplace is 85 dB up to a maximum of eight hours per day. The other precautions that one must take is to avoid loud music. It is also important to encourage children to use their headphones judiciously. Higher quality earphones that block out background noise are better option.

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Date:Feb 6, 2016
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