>> Young adults and children are at a greater risk for hearing loss today than even a couple of decades ago due to the increasing popularity and use of earphones and MP3 players. Read this.
Whether it is driving to work or popping the headphones at the office, the 24-year-old Hanif Saed has been dubbed an ‘addicted user of his personal audio devices’, by his peers and colleagues.
Since early last year, Hanif’s most defining trait has been isolation from other people because he is always glued to his macbook and mobile phone.
Hanif, the Chief Operating Officer of one of the country’s oil companies expressively shares with Your Health, his addiction and extensive use of his personal audio devices (PADs), particularly to listen to music and watch movies.
His family members have labeled him an outlandish person who skips even prayers for his uncontrollable addiction to the devices.
With earphones fixed on his ears for at least ten hours a day, Hanif enjoys most when the music plays to the maximum volume, to the extent that a person nearby can even tell which song he’s listening to. “Sometimes you find yourself in a noisy situation that makes whatever you are consuming with your device less enjoyable,” he says.
Where’s the problem?
Hanif is not the only one with such an addiction, and by no means, his case is exclusive. Since the invention of ‘Personal Audio Devices’ [portable sound reproduction device as normally and customarily used for personal purposes including but not limited to a personal radio, television receiver, tape recorder or compact disc player] in recent years, together with the popularity of portable music players, there has been an increase in teenagers and young adults who are exposed to loud and harsh music.
A simple glance at your surrounding will testify this. Just look around you and observe anyone with their smartphones or who are in front of the desktops or with earphones in their ears. This trend is everywhere, from workplaces and home to the commuter places and worshipping houses. But are users like Hanif aware of the health consequences?
World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that one billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss due to the unsafe use of personal audio devices (PAD), including smartphones.
Data from studies in middle- and high-income countries analysed by the WHO indicate that among teenagers and young adults aged 12-35 years, nearly 50 per cent are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from the use of personal audio devices.
Dr Khuzema Rangwala, an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist based in Dar es Salaam tells Your Health that the average person can hear sounds as low as zero decibels [a unit used to measure the intensity of sound], which translates as the level of rustling leaves.
“Some people with very good hearing can hear sounds down to -15 decibels (dB). If a sound reaches 85 dB or stronger for a prolonged time, it can cause permanent damage to one’s hearing,” he says.
The ‘many’ cases
In a more elaborative and interpretative way, Dr Rashida Gulamali, an Audiologist and Speech Language Pathologist at the HearWell Audiology Clinic explains to Your Health, “One should not use PADs for more than one hour a day.”
She notes that the lower the volume of the sound, the longer one can listen to it safely. If the volume of the sound is very low, it will not cause damage even if one listens to it for a very long time.
Dr Gulamali points out that prolonged exposure to any kind of loud noise [above 85 db] can cause permanent hearing loss, PADs not being an exception.
According to Dr Gulamali’s experience, many teenagers and young adults are now being diagnosed with hearing impairment where one may hastily assume that this is due to an increase in diagnostic facilities, but professionals in the field of hearing healthcare, specifically audiologists, attribute this trend to excessive use of PADs.
“In the past five years, as a practising audiologist, I have also seen an increase in number of young adults in my clinic who are diagnosed with hearing impairment,” she says while adding that during the history taking, one common thing that most of the diagnosed adults report is the use of PADs at high volumes.
A simple random survey by Your Health found out that despite most of the people being aware of the risks associated with unsafe levels of sounds from the use of personal audio devices, many of them are still exposed to them, sometimes, excessively.
Miriam Joseph of Ubungo, Dar es Salaam says that she was unaware of the health effects associated with excessive use of PADs particularly in listening and watching movies while maximising the volume.
“But with time I came to realise that it was affecting me, there was a time that whenever I use the earphones, I felt some kind of pain that I could not describe,” adds the 30-year-old Miriam and an e-money agent.
Surprisingly, Miriam still exposes herself to PADs excessively while listening to music through headphones. “I don’t think if the headphones can do the same damage as the earphones,” Miriam convinces herself.
James Charles, 26, is not aware of any risks of hearing loss from the exposure to his PADs despite the fact that he does it extensively. “You are now telling me,” speaks Charles in dismay who is based in Mwanza, during a telephonic interview.
“I honestly can’t listen to a low playing content in my devices, particularly music. I don’t enjoy. I never felt any kind of pain ever since. I do use earphone for a maximum of 8 hours a day.”
The problem is that even when he tries to control himself from the behaviour, Charles’ efforts most of the times has no avail. He confesses that he can’t control himself but he also seems not to care.
In a situation like this where one cannot control themselves, Dr Gulamali advices a person must substitute their hobby for PADs to an alternative one like reading books and paying visits to the library or engaging in some community work.
“And if at all you frequently visit places with such a high levels of noise, make sure you adequately protect yourself by using noise/ear plugs at least,” Dr Gulamali cautions.
Sarah Silima, another user of PADs, converses that she is aware of the effects that loud music can have to her hearing as her device often times warns her when maximising the volume beyond the recommended level.
She adds, “But I normally ignore the warning and go ahead and increas it. I just can’t digest the fact that my hearing can be impaired as I have never come across a person who is a victim of what I’m warned about.”
“I use earphones because they help me to concentrate and helps me get out of unnecessary distractions,” says Jamila Hamid.
Jamila,30, confesses that the day she forgets any PADs at home while away, she gets very frustrated and furious. “I think I’m addicted to them to the extent that one of the things that I’m very careful at during packing, are my audio devices.”
Boniphace Michael, 29, says that despite being a big fan of the PADs, he personally has never experienced any sort of effects in his hearing that he can say is associated with the excessive exposure to PADs.
“But I know someone in my neighbourhood who has a hearing problem which after diagnosed was found that it had something to do with the constant behaviour of listening to loud music too often,” says the resident of Kawe, Dar es Salaam with his smartphone in the left hand and one earbud of his earphones in the left.
Precaution is better than loss
Dr Gulamali advices that people should take precautions in their excessive exposure to the PADs. According to her, Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is the only kind of hearing loss that can be prevented by taking necessary precautions like avoiding loud noises, listening to audio at safe volume levels and limiting the usage time of PAD.
“It is however worrisome for the parents of the teenagers as they cannot restrict their children from using the PADs. Almost all electronic devices that teenagers use also serve as a PAD. A good example is the smartphone.”
Speaking on a careless behaviour by most people who have an excessive exposure to PADs, Dr Gulamali says that its built on a foundation that some people think they are immune to these effects and the ‘it-cannot-happen-to-me’ mentality that in most cases becomes a cause of their neglect.
“In practise, most of the time when I discuss the results with my young patients who have damaged their hearing due to possible use of PADs, the first question they ask is ‘how is this possible? I am still very young! Hearing loss happens in old age,” she shares.
If one can imagine the effect of not being able to hear well, Dr Gulamali opines, one will value their hearing. She says that hearing loss has various effects on one’s life. It can lead to isolation from friends and community, depression, poor academic performance and lesser productivity at work amongst other things.
“Hearing loss has also potentially devastating consequences for physical and mental health, education and employment.”
Once a person can understand this, according to Dr Gulamali, keeping one away from loud and harsh music will never be an issue.