NEW DELHI: By the time his parents realised that Rohan had circumvented their ban on loud music by listening to songs at full blast on earphones, it was too late. The high-decibel noise had already damaged the 23-year-olds inner ear cilia, or hair-like sensory receptors, leading to partial hearing loss. His ent consultant at Sitaram Bhartia Research Institute, Dr RK Bhardwaj, says the youngster will require hearing aid in the future.
Music at the right loudness level can be relaxing and inspiring. Beyond that it can be damaging noise.
World Health Organization data shows that around 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults worldwide are at risk of hearing loss due to the use of personal audio devices, including smartphones, on which they are exposed to dreadful audio levels.
WHO says exposure to noise levels of 100 decibels is safe for no longer than 15 minutes, points out Dr Suneela Garg, member of the central coordination committee for the National Programme for Prevention and Control of Deafness in India. The standard sound exposure limit is 85 decibels. Modern headphones on music players, experts say, can reach levels as high as 110 decibels.
With young people addicted to in-ear music, it isnt a surprise that otic specialists are in demand these days. Dr WVBS Ramalingam, Head of ENT at BLK Super Speciality Hospital, says he has come across at least three patients, all youngsters, who suffered from tinnitus, or a ringing sensation in the ears, due to prolonged exposure to noise on earphones. They were advised to totally cut themselves off from the devices as well as events such as rock concerts to avoid further ear damage, says Dr. Ramalingam.
Earphone use can not only permanently damage the hair-like cells that send electrical signals from the ears to the brain, but Dr Girish Raheja, ENT consultant, Apollo Hospitals, warns that infection in the ear canal and attention deficit are associated problems too.
Raheja rues the lack of definitive studies in India to assess the prevalence of noise-induced hearing loss, an important social and public health issue.
However, studies of screening tests in the United States have revealed an increase in hearing problems for children at ever younger ages.
One such study, extracts of which were published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine, demonstrates that 14.9% of children aged 6 to 19 years have low or high frequency hearing loss in at least one ear, 12.5% have audiometric evidence of hearing loss caused by noise.
Another study among adolescents in the US shows that prevalence of hearing loss increased significantly from 14.9% in 1988-1994 to 19.5% in 2005-2006.
The Indian government, says Garg, is working on creating awareness about the ill-effects of prolonged use of headphones and also interacting with manufacturers of such devices on introducing technologies that restrict the volume.
WHO also held a meeting on the issue last year, adds Dr Garg, who is also the head of the community medicine department at Maulana Azad Medical College.
Earphones are also involved in almost half the road accident deaths in Delhi, according to a senior doctor at AIIMS Trauma Centre, caused by pedestrians using hand-held devices while crossing the road or walking along the carriageway.
Listening to music or talking on the phone while crossing a road is dangerous.
It diverts attention and causes a hearing deficit. The pedestrian is often not able to comprehend warning signals like honking or someone simply crying out, cautioned the doctor