How modern technology is damaging our hearing
Many of us have experienced the morning commute where every car on the morning train is full of people with white wires sprouting from their ears and the aggravation of having to listen to multiple people’s music as it throbs out of their ear buds. With the distinct lack of education around noise pollution, many of us are blissfully unaware of how our unhealthy relationship with digital devices is creating generations of individuals with hearing loss.
Several reports show that there is a direct correlation between the effects of loud noises produced by modern technology and premature hearing loss seen by the rise of hearing aid users in the 30-49 age bracket. Hearing loss is often gradual, taking place over several years and without any symptoms of physical pain, so some of us don’t notice our declining hearing until it’s too late. As technology continues to become increasingly intertwined with our day-to-day lives, what does the future hold for our hearing, and is the damage truly irreversible?
The sound of music
Big name technology brands continuously market the need for consumers to achieve the full sensory experience so we buy surround sound systems for home use to get as close to a real life cinema experience in high definition. Then there’s the general background noise that bombards our ears throughout the day – at the office, on the factory floor, on the busy city sidewalk or in our favorite pubs and restaurants.
The rise of hearing loss shows a direct correlation with the evolution of wearable audio devices like silencing headphones. Shreena Patel, a Hearing Aids manager at Clinic Compare, advises, “Quite often we are so concerned with trying to drown out every bit of background noise to try and hear our favorite podcast, playlist or film in peace that we are completely ignoring what those high volume levels are actually going to our ears. Reports have shown that nearly 66 percent of people who use personal music devices are listening to them at 85 decibels (dB) or more which can cause permanent hearing damage over time.” Although noise from modern technology is an inescapable aspect of daily life, we must enjoy it at safe levels in order to preserve our hearing.
Hearing aids: no longer just an accessory for your granddad
It is important to consider the risks of noise-induced hearing loss in younger generations as seen by the momentous shift in the demography of hearing aid wearers. Hearing aids are no longer just for grandparents. The National Institute on Deafness has recorded an increase in hearing aid use in younger age categories. In fact, the data revealed that hearing loss is more prevalent in men aged between 20 and 39, with 32 percent of those men suffering from some form of noise-induced hearing loss, compared to 20 percent for women. In addition one in twelve 30 year olds in the US are currently living with a hearing impairment. The number of people affected now could well be just the beginning as ear damage grows gradually over time. Therefore, the repercussions of technology since the existence of iPods in 2001 are still to be determined.
How loud are your headphones?
Over the past year, considerable media attention has been given to the potential risk of hearing loss associated with the use of portable music players. More than 90 percent of young people listen to a personal music player, many with the sound turned up to maximum volume. According to research conducted by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health earphones inserted into the ear produce sound levels that can exceed 120 dB, which is comparable to a plane leaving the runway.
Brian Fligor, director of diagnostic audiology at Boston Children's Hospital and instructor of otology at Harvard Medical School, conducted an experiment to test the effect of different volume levels on the ears. The results were decisive; you can listen to a volume of 85 dB for eight hours a day, and your hearing should remain healthy over time. However, as the volume climbs, the relationship does not remain linear. An increase of just another 5 dB, a total of 90 dB, would mean only two and a half hours of listening is deemed safe. If you were to ramp up the sound to a dangerously unsafe 100 dB, experts recommend listening for no longer than 15 minutes. It is important to acknowledge that today’s devices produce sound at substantially louder levels, so the amount of time that is considered safe listening can be mere minutes.
The physical effect
Noise pollution might not be alarming to everyone, and some individuals might not even be concerned about hearing damage. However, there are other serious conditions, such as hypertension, that are associated with damaging loud noises, and these should not be ignored. It is time to take action against dangerously loud sound levels, which starts by making small changes to our daily routine.
The world isn’t going to get any quieter, but there are ways to lessen the impact noise has on your body and psyche. Reports suggest that nearly one-third of permanent hearing loss is preventable if proper action is taken. The Center for Disease Control recommends a 60/60 rule: listen to any device at a maximum of only 60 percent of its full volume for a total of 60 minutes a day. By taking this advice as an early warning, we can protect the hearing that we have now, and carry on enjoying the wonders that sound brings to life.