If you’re reading this right now, chances are you have your earphones on. And if you do, I bet they’re at above 80 percent of the volume. But hey, who’s to blame? The people around making noise, of course!
Blame it on whomever you want; the damage is on you. Every time you listen to your music at a screeching high volume, you are losing part of your hearing abilities.
Among teens and young adults, nearly 50 percent listen to unsafe levels of sound through personal audio devices. According to the WHO, 1.1 billion young people (aged 12-15 years) are at risk of hearing loss due to exposure to noise in recreational settings.
The threat is real. But it is also 100 percent avoidable. Let’s understand how.
How Loud Is Too Loud?
To give some perspective, normal conversations range between 60-65 decibels. Anything above 75-80 decibels could be considered harmful. But the maximum volume your earphones or headphones reach is up to 120 decibels — when hearing loss is possible in less than 2 minutes!
Speaking to FIT, Dr Atul Kumar Mittal, Director, Ear Nose & Throat at Fortis Gurugram, informed that the number of such cases has gone up. “There are lots of cases of silent hearing loss. In most of these, the patients don’t even come for hearing troubles. Their problem is diagnosed during regular check-ups. When we screen them, nerve damages caused due to high volumes is detected. These cases are increasing at an alarming rate.”
Dr Atul Kumar Mittal“Noise induced hearing loss is usually gradual, unless there’s a high intensity trauma like in a concert, where you’re situated near the speaker.”
This is not all. Along with the surge in the number of cases, the age groups that have started experiencing hearing problems have also diversified. Dr Gaurav Chaturvedy, Director, ENT at Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre told FIT, “Previously, we used to get patients in the 60-80 age group. Now, even young adults and adolescents come to us with issues. This trend is only expected to increase.”
What Are Some Early Signs of Hearing Loss?
A part of the inner ear, called cochlea, contains tiny hair cells that are responsible for sending sound messages to the brain. When a sound is too loud, the fibres in the auditory nerves and the hair cells are compromised — causing gradual, but irreversible damage to hearing.
One of the most common signs, explains Dr Chaturvedy, is a ringing sensation in the ear, also called ‘tinnitus’. “This may be temporary or permanent. A lot of times, it settles on its own and the hair cells in the ear get into a recovery stage. However, if the hearing loss has set in, it is irreversible. It is difficult to regenerate the hair cells in these cases.”
While it’s worrying to know that damage to the eardrum is often permanent. But here’s some good news — it is totally and completely preventable.
Preventing Hearing Loss: What Doctors Advise
When we ask our experts how this can be done, their first advice is plain and simple — Reduce the volume! They site the 60-60 rule, which suggests that one should try listening to audio at 60 percent of the maximum volume, for not more than 60 minutes at once.
Another suggestion is opting for over-the-ear headphones over earbud earphones. A 2007 study found that adults turn up their much music louder when they’re wearing the latter.
Dr Gaurav Chaturvedy“The kind of exposure to sound and the distance between the source and the eardrum matters. With earbud earphones, the distance is minimum. You tend to increase the volume, especially when they don’t have a noise-cancellation feature, and the sound reaches right in your ear. We recommend over-the-head earphones for this reason. But the way out is to reduce the volume to 50-60%.”
He also suggests opting for noise-canceling earphones, which would eliminate the need to increase the volume to mitigate background noises.
Interestingly, Dr Atul Mittal advises to not use earphones while exercising or jogging, because the high blood rush could make nerves in the ear more vulnerable to damage. He adds, “If you have a cold or cough, and an ear blockage as a result, there is fluid accumulation in the middle ear. When you use earphones at this time, you tend to put them at a higher volume to hear better.”
As for the rest, you know the drill by now. Keep the volume down, limit time engaged in noisy activities, go for regular check-ups, and compensate overuse of earphones with some no-earphone days. Do all this, and give your ears some more years to hear!
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