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Image courtesy: Birmingham Mail (UK)
Image courtesy: Birmingham Mail (UK)

We commonly come across hand dryers at various places like the airport, mall, restrooms or restaurants. While we dry our hands, we also hear the whooshing sound of the machine. But have we ever considered the damage that the sound could have on our hearing.

Previous research has suggested that hand dryers may operate at dangerously loud levels for adults. No research has explored whether they operate at a safe level for children’s hearing. Children’s ears are more sensitive to damage from loud sounds than adult ears

To investigate that question, Nora Keegan, the study’s author, spent more than a year taking hundreds of measurements in public restrooms throughout Calgary, her hometown.

Her interest in the subject was not only academic, but also personal: She’s 13, after all.

Grade 8 student Nora Keegan with her most recent project, An Effective Model to Reduce Noise of Hand Dryers. The blue air filters can reduce noise by roughly 11 decibels. Image courtesy: David Keegan
Grade 8 student Nora Keegan with her most recent project, An Effective Model to Reduce Noise of Hand Dryers. The blue air filters can reduce noise by roughly 11 decibels. Image courtesy: David Keegan

“I found my ears hurting and also that children were covering their ears because the hand dryers were too loud, so I wondered if maybe they actually are dangerous to human ears, and I decided to test it,” she said in an interview from a summer camp north of Montreal.

For more than a year, Nora travelled around Calgary, her hometown, investigating and measuring hand dryers in public restrooms. Her quest began because of personal reasons – she noticed early on that her own ears hurt after using hand dryers.

“I found that sometimes after using hand dryer my ears would sting and I also noticed that lots of kids in washrooms were covering their ears and not wanting to use hand dryers,” Nora said.  “And I thought maybe the kids aren’t just being oversensitive, the hand dryers are being really loud. So then I decided to do a study.”

Nora first looked online to see if hand dryer companies disclosed how they measured noise estimates for their products. They didn’t, so she proceeded to take things into her own hands.

Nora went to several bathrooms that children frequent and collected a total of 20 measurements per hand dryer. She found that many dryers were much louder than their companies claimed, exceeding 100 dBa, which is the loudest noise level Canada allows for toys. At 100 dBa, hearing loss is possible after 14 minutes.

Nora said the experience has taught her to keep on trying, no matter the obstacle.

“I’ve learned just to keep on going and try hard and persevere,” Nora said.

While speaking to My Medical Mantra on the impact of this study. Dr Shrinivas Chavan, Professor and Head of ENT department at Sir JJ Group of Hospitals, said, “It the sound is more than 80 decibels (dB) then it can be harmful to our ear. This can cause hearing problems. The ears of young children are very sensitive and so much sound can cause them pain. If the sound of the hand dryer is more than 100 dB then there is a risk of the child becoming deaf.”

David Keegan, Nora Keegan’s father, said accompanying her on her hand dryer-testing adventures was ‘fun and wild.’

“It was cool to see her determination to get this out there,” David Keegan said.

David Keegan said he and his wife have loved helping Nora Keegan pursue her scientific passion.

“I think any parent is thrilled to be able to support kids following their passion,” David Keegan said. “I’m really impressed with the work she did on this, and we’re really proud of her.”

Editor of Paediatrics & Child Health Joan Robinson said the fact that Nora Keegan’s study was clear and concise, coupled with its originality, led her to accept it. Robinson said it’s beneficial for younger people to investigate scientific questions.

“Younger people tend to think outside the box,” Robinson said. “They have a different point of view, and so different things stem from that. They have way more potential.”

Lauren Durinka, a paediatric audiologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said Nora Keegan’s focus on hand dryers was not something she had thought of before. She said she was impressed by the points Nora Keegan made about how companies test hand dryers.

Source: USA Today

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