When in need of listening to something, earphones are everyone’s best friends. They give privacy, prevent disturbances and make good accessories, all packed in a light and practical wire. However, wearing earphones comes with a risk.
A study in the United States found that 51 per cent of high schoolchildren experience hearing loss due to exposure to loud music. The World Health Organization also found that 43 million people aged 12-35 experience hearing loss, and at least 50 per cent of these cases are due to using earphones at a high volume.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the increase in usage of earphones and headphones has resulted in the prevalence of hearing loss in young adults.
“Noise exposure is a common cause of hearing loss,” says Tricia Ashby, Director of Audiology at the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA). When you subject your ears to loud input, the fluid in your inner ear moves more, which can damage the hair cells that send signals to the brain.
“If a person has repeated exposure to noise,” Ashby says, “that temporary threshold shift can become a permanent threshold shift. This is why it is so important to protect your hearing when involved in noisy activities.” That includes everything from listing to music on your morning commute to attending a concert to, yes, jogging with ear buds in. The earlier you start taking care of your hearing; the better off you’ll be down the line.
While speaking to My Medical Mantra, Dr Rahul Kulkarni, ENT department (Unit Head), St George Hospital, said, “When we use our headphones or earphones, the sound emitted from these devices is around 90-100 dB (decibels). Such a high intensity of sound is harmful to our eardrums. This can cause permanent hearing loss in the long-term.”
Dr Kulkarni added, “In the beginning, the person starts to hear less or the hearing starts becoming faint. This is an early sign of hearing loss. I see many patients on a regular basis, at the ENT dept. I advise them to use the ‘speaker mode,’ if possible, while speaking to people on a call.”
Here are three tips on wearing earphones without the risk of hearing loss, as compiled by kompas.com.
Reduce the volume
According to the MRC Institute of Hearing Research, the United Kingdom, the average volume of music while wearing earphones is between 95-105 decibels. For comparison, normal chatting voice is 60 decibels, while thunder can reach 120 decibels, which can damage hearing in only 9 seconds.
Constant loud noise can exhaust the sound-capturing sensory cells in the ear. One of the exhaustion symptoms is a buzzing sensation. However, resting the ear occasionally gets rid of it.
Limit wearing duration to 1.5 hours at a time
Oregon Health and Science University, the United States, reported that listening to music through earphones for 15 minutes with maximum volume will damage hearing. Loud sounds can permanently damage stereocilia cells, the fine hairs responsible for delivering sound vibrations to the brain.
The habit of prolonged listening to loud music can sharply decrease someone’s hearing. The decrease is indicated by a constant ringing in the ears and having to increase audio volume in order to hear clearly.
Routinely clean the earphones
Based on research by Indian clinical microbiologist Chiranjay Mukhopadhyay and his team, 68 percent of earphones are home to bacteria. Additionally, the habit of lending earphones to others can also increase the risk of bacterial growth.
The presence of these bacteria can increase the risk of external ear canal inflammation known as otitis externa. It causes the ear to feel pain and pressure, also produces pus-like stinky discharges.
Always be on a lookout for signs of hearing loss which includes buzzing or ringing in the ears, difficulty in hearing at low volume and a need to keep the volume up.
Another easy way to keep the sound level at check is to ask someone if they can hear the sound through your earphones while sitting next to you. If they can, it is time to lower down the volume.