World Tinnitus Day: Rachel Thompson, Clinic Compare – How Modern Technology is Damaging our Hearing
Modern technology and our increasingly unhealthy relationship with digital devices are causing premature hearing loss. Sounds are stimulating and add to the richness of life, so we bombard our ears throughout the day; from headphones to trains, car horns and loud TV. Unfortunately, the noises we experience daily are becoming louder and increasingly inescapable, and research shows that loud music and noisy workplaces account for more than a third of all hearing loss. We need to become proactive when it comes to protecting our hearing. By educating ourselves on noise pollution we can take charge of what goes into our ears now and ensure healthy hearing for years to come.
The Invisible Polluter
Extreme noise levels should be seen as a form of pollution, but because we can’t see or taste them we don’t realise that it can be as harmful as the thick grey smoke that covers many of our big cities. Not only are the majority of us unaware of noise pollution; we also genuinely enjoy it and even spend massive amounts of money to acquire it. Fran Whittaker-Wood, a Hearing Aids manager on Clinic Compare, commented that “noise education, whether it be in schools or at home is crucial since much of the younger generation spend significant parts of their day plugged into loud devices and don’t appreciate the effects that playing loud music is having on their ears”.
We must take a closer look at how the hidden modern day culprits of noise pollution are exposing people to prolonged and irreversible hearing damage. That ringing in your ears when you leave a rock concert is called tinnitus, and for many can last multiple days, during this time the stressed hearing system tries to heal itself as best it can. However, too many experiences of this kind will lead to hearing loss and once this occurs it almost never comes back.
Everyday Decibel Dangers
Our lack of noise pollution education means we are unaware to the fact that earphones inserted into the ear can produce sound levels that exceed 120 decibels, which is a similar frequency to a plane taking off. The decibel level of daily appliances are worryingly close, if not exceed, the damaging frequency. A safe noise exposure level is between 80 to 85 decibels according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), however a concert measures at 120 dB. Sound may be invisible but it becomes harmful dependent upon the exposure time. Noise levels we might encounter such as a jet taking off 20 ft over your ears measures at 120 dB, a percussion drum at the symphony 106 dB, and a chain saw 100 dB, in addition just inside the safe zone is a household vacuum cleaner at 70 dB and a dishwasher at 60 dB.
In a recent article by Emma Harrison, from the charity Action on Hearing Loss, she has advised that “66% of personal music player users are listening to music at louder than 85 decibels, which according to the World Health Organisation, can cause permanent hearing damage over time”.
The Changing Face of Hearing Aids
As a consequence, the demographic of typical hearing aid users is shifting. Hearing aid devices have always been seen as the staple accessory for our grandparents but research shows that the age gap is closing at a rate quicker than ever before. Younger generations have grown up in a time where they are constantly exposed to noise blaring out at them from digital devices. Data collected by earinfo.com revealed that hearing loss begins most drastically between the ages of 20 to 39 years and is more common in men than women; 32% versus 20% respectively. The situation in the US is even more bleak with one out of twelve 30-year-olds already living with a hearing impairment. Ear damage grows gradually over time, so the repercussions of technology in the last few decades, for example since the birth of the iPod in 2001, are still to be seen. The few people affected now could well be just the tip of the iceberg.
Protecting Our Ears Before It’s Too Late
The effect of loud noise levels is not exclusive to Tinnitus, there is a long list of other equally shocking issues and illnesses. Noise pollution might not strike a chord with everyone and some individuals might not be as concerned about their hearing being damaged. However, there are a host of other more serious conditions that are evoked because of damaging loud noises, and these certainly cannot be ignored. There is a strong correlation between high noise levels and increased blood pressure. Loud noises also disturb your digestion as the decibel level cause ulcers and acid reflux. Furthermore, reports suggest it can intensify the effects of drugs, alcohol, ageing and lethal carbon monoxide, as well as contributing to insomnia. Every time you are exposed to dangerous levels of noise, your hearing is slowly wearing away, because the effects are cumulative.
We must protect our ears before it’s too late. By implementing small changes to our daily routine we can go a long way towards preventing premature hearing loss. The world isn’t going to get any quieter and I’m not suggesting we walk around with ear muffs on, but there are ways to lessen the impact noise has on your entire body and psyche. Listening to loud music has the potential to cause a lot of damage and to counter this the Centre for Disease Control recommends a 60/60 rule- only listen to any device at a maximum of 60% of its full volume for a total of 60 minutes a day. Taking this into account, warning apps or device restrictions need to be widely distributed to help users identify when they might have exceeded this level. Take this as an early warning about whether sooner or later it won’t be earphones you’re popping into your ears, but hearing aids instead.