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Effects of earphones on hearing

Health & Science

Use of ear phones to play music poses a new danger. Few people probably realise that they are unintentionally damaging their hearing just by listening to an MP3 payer or IPod through earphones at high volume for just an hour a day, writes WINNIE OSIKA

You think its cool walking around town with earphones or headphones on your ears bumping your head ; wait till your doctor informs you that those “cool gadgets” you think add swag to your walking style are to blame for your hearing problem. Internet sources say that Generation Y is more likely to having hearing problems because of the loud music that play through the earphones.

A quick look around Nairobi city reveals an uncanny behaviour among the youth that is slowing catching up with the older generation.  Be it on the streets walking, in restaurants having a chat with a friend, or even even in offices trying to finish the day’s report, gadgets remain fixed on peoples ears, listening to music through the earphones.

Effects on hearing Scientists argue that earphones when turned on are two powerful magnets, and if you put them on, the brain is sandwiched in the middle for hours with the magnets magnetising the brain.

Other documentations argue that they do not have any effect if used sensibly, but the problem is that people do not, and this can cause ear damage, so the best thing to do is to put a volume that you can still hear things. According to one ear specialist, Dr Ng’ang’a Mburu who is an Ear Norse and Through (ENT) consultant at the Metropolitan Hospital, long-term exposure to loud music can cause hearing problems, sometimes so severely that it can induce deafness.

Warnings “A loud blast or loud music exposure to the ear can break the ossicles which are in the middle part of the ear or can even cause perforation of the ossicles which may result to hearing impairment,” he says.

“The external part of the ear is also at risk for those who like sharing earphones. This is capable in cases where one user has skin infection or skin rush to easily spread disease,” adds Dr Mburu.

Another recent study by Earhelp; Looking at Emerging Health Risks of Earphones in Europe concluded that using earphones and playing loud music everyday for five years could cause permanent and irreversible hearing problems.

How loud is too loud? But the big question asked by many is, how loud is too loud? Current legislation limits the maximum noise output of MP3 to 100 decibels, but listening to music at 89 decibels regularly is still dangerous.

This means that someone who listens to their MP3 player through earphones on the highest volume for five hours gets a dose of noise that is more than that allowed by the health and safety regulations for factory workers. Sound, measured in decibels, travels in the ear directly to the eardrum and the more the number of decibels the greater the risk.

People probably ask what type of earphones is therefore good for their ears.  Dr Mburu says if the music is too loud or is loud enough, then all types of earphones have the capacity to deliver noise that will damage one’s hearing.

“The issue here is not the earphones but the volume playing on your ear,” he says.

Earphones companies have now invented the ear bud designed of earphone that prevents loud music from entering the ear. However, ear bud when inserted in the ear rather than just sitting on top of the pinna the fleshy part of the ear are more dangerous because they force the sound directly to the eardrum.

Dangerous effects According to Dr Gauri Mankekar, an ENT consultant at the PHD Hinduja Hospital Mumbai, one should not listen to music through earphones for more than an hour per day at volume levels more than 60 per cent maximum.

And for those who like working out with music to their ears, be warned, Dr. Gauri says that wearing earphones during any form of exercise diverts blood from the ears to the limbs and leaves the inner ear more vulnerable to damage from loud sound. 

With everyone having earphones and headphones on the ears, do people really know the after effects of these gadgets, or are they even educated on the usage when they buy them? A quick stop on one of the busy shops in Moi Avenue that sell music devices tells a lot.

An inquiry on the details of the latest iPod, earphones and headphones, show that the seller does not warn people on the effect of loud music on my ears. It is obvious that they are there to make quick sales.

“Ah, hiyo hainanga shida! (Those, do not have any bad effects),” is the answer one gets when you ask about any health effects of the devise.

Students who are popularly known to reading using their earphones on are also at a great danger of having hearing impairment. One said that he understands better when listening to music while reading. Others even sleep with them on to give them a “sound sleep”.

“You may look cool yes, with the latest headphones and earphones, but limit the music and volume in your ear, for the teens and DJ’s, and all those who use these gadgets, be warned that there is no treatment for loss of hearing, all you’ll get is a hearing aid that will be stuck in your ear for the rest of your life, said Dr Kizito Lubano, a researcher at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri)

He urges the youth particularly to take the necessary precautions, lest they are rendered deaf at a young age.

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