IMPACT OF EXCESSIVE USE OF EARPHONES ON HEARING

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IMPACT OF EXCESSIVE USE OF EARPHONES ON HEARING

Mangaluru: It is a new fashion trend to see our youth with earphones on, hooked to a cell phone. Pandemic bringing in online classes & OTT has made the usage of cell phones and earphones even more rampant. Now, people from all walks of life have access to inexhaustible audio & video content at their fingertips.

Earphones, connected through wire or Bluetooth provide a personalized audio experience, where the source of sound is very close to the eardrums. Hence the intensity of sound can be too high if we do not consciously keep a limit on it. You may argue that the majority of these devices do warn us when we are exceeding the limit but unfortunately, we can always overrule them!

So, why are we so concerned? Constant exposure to loud sound can irreversibly damage hearing ability in the long run. Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is a real concern. In the past, it was mainly an occupational hazard for factory workers and heavy motor drivers. But nowadays, the incidence of ‘Sociacusis’, that is, NIHL due to recreational activities (car/bike racing, video gaming/ PlayStation, rock music, ‘silent disco’ etc) is rising alarmingly, mainly in the youth.

An individual can be exposed to only up to 90 decibels (dB) of sound for a maximum of 8 hours a day for 5 days a week if they have to avoid NIHL. If we raise the volume by 5 dB, the duration of exposure has to be reduced to half. So, at 95 dB it’s 4 hours, at 100 dB it’s 2 hours and at 115 dB (maximum volume delivered through an earphone) the limit is only 15 minutes! Now just imagine the fate of the ears of a youth sitting next to the open window of a city bus in noisy traffic listening to FM radio in full volume (it has to be at full volume, or else music will not be audible with so much of ambient noise) and the long journey back home interrupted with Traffic jams is not making the situation any better.

That’s why, on this World Hearing Day, 3 rd of March, we want to spread awareness about the ill effects of noise on our ears. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set a theme for this day as “to hear for life, listen with care”. Its key messages are – i) It is possible to have good hearing across the life through ear care, ii) many causes of hearing loss are preventable, including NIHL, iii) ‘safe listening’ can mitigate the risk of NIHL, iv) WHO calls upon governments and industry partners to raise awareness and promote safe listening among general public especially young adults.

The reasons for an urgent need to spread this awareness are- i) NIHL is not recognized by the victim at its early stage (until they notice tinnitus ringing sound in their ears) because it affects high frequencies and our normal conversation is in lower frequencies; ii) there is no treatment or cure for NIHL. Contrary to the famous proverb in medical practice – “prevention is better than cure”, for NIHL, the slogan is ‘prevention only and no cure’. So, the take-home message is- to use earphones only at quiet places, at minimum volume for minimum duration possible with frequent breaks. That’s why we say “wise ears last a lifetime!”

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Dr Devi Prasad, HOD of ENT Department, Kasturba Medical College (KMC) Hospital, Mangaluru


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