Deaf Toll Hearing loss might beset the Walkman and iPod generation
More than one billion earthlings are heading for an untimely hearing aid or silence all around, according to a recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Nearly half of those under 35 in the developed world listen to music way too loud. 40% of the young generation are exposed to harmful levels of noise at concerts and sporting events.
The rule of thumb is that the louder the noise the shorter the time span one can tolerate it without hearing impairment. Music played at the average noise level of street traffic – 85 dB – is safe to listen to for eight hours. Raising the level by just 3 dB will halve the safe listening time. By the time you reach the 100 dB mark – the noise level of someone shouting close to you – the impairment threshold is a mere fifteen minutes! Stretch it and your eardrums will pay the price.
The demographics are startling: 15% of the 41-59 age group are already hearing impaired although they might not have noticed yet. The WHO report points out that to a great extent mobile music playing devices and the mp3 format are to blame. In the olden days, listening to music was limited to the cumbersome record player and radio set, whereas these days one can access a nonstop flow of music even on the move. So we leave the headphones or the car stereo on and let it rock and roll round the clock. A point in case, we listen to music longer and louder in the car than ever before.
The resonance of sound waves are picked up by the eardrums and transmitted through the tiny bones of hammer, anvil and stirrup into the inner ear where the spiral chamber of the cochlea turns them into electric impulses, transferred through hair cells to the auditory nerve.
We are born with roughly 17 thousand hair cells inside the cochlea and we keep losing a few of them each time we are exposed to excessive noise. Once they are gone, hair cells will never replenish and over time their gradual loss leads to noticeable hearing impairment.
Noise level is one of several factors that may lead to hearing loss. Pitch, time span and periodicity all affect our hearing depending on gender, age, individual sensitivity, existing ear conditions or previous ear operations.
• Swap your earphones for headphones – their membranes are further away from your eardrums, easy on your hearing.
• Follow the sixty-sixty rule: don’t crank up the volume higher than 60% on your device and limit listening to loud music to 60 minutes in total a day.
• Plug it in! Use earplugs in a noisy environment – the simple most effective way to protect your hearing.
“Noise pollution is so much part of modern living that I regularly see patients with hearing loss,” says Dr. Attila Velich, ENT specialist at Dr. Rose Private Hospital. “Noticeably more people check in with hearing problems after New Year’s Eve parties and concerts. Patients find acute hearing impairment a great discomfort, especially when it is followed by tinnitus, a constant singing in the ears.”
Hearing damage can be assessed with audiometry: a painless hearing test that takes place in a sound proof booth – the deaf room – where sounds of different frequencies are played on a headphone and the patient has to signal the ones he can clearly identify.
“Looking after our hearing pays off,” advises Dr. Velich. “Regular audiometry from early childhood can reveal hearing loss in time. Above forty it is highly recommended to do a hearing test every five years, or make it part of a manager health check. Just as any other organ, our hearing would only benefit from doing sports, keeping fit and maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system – quitting smoking might be the first step in the right direction.”