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Modern technology is developing at such a fast rate that not only are we unable to keep track of all that it has to offer, but we are also unable to understand all the problems that arise from its usage.

The ease and charm of the sleek and super-efficient gadgets and apps make us hungry to devour anything that our pockets and access allow, without caring whether we need it or not. What effect it will have on us is something that doesn’t even come in the picture — only parents sometimes think about this but they too push the thought away to reflect on the amazing features of man-made inventions.

Is something that doesn’t even come in the picture — only parents sometimes think about this but they too push the thought away to reflect on the amazing features of man-made inventions.

But we can’t close our eyes and ears to certain things as it is these very precious organs of ours that are under threat due to modern technology. Well, frankly, not entirely due to modern technology, but due to our misuse of it. We have often discussed the effects of screens on our eyes, brain and attention, today we will look at what is happening to our poor ears from exposure to loud music.

In the good old days, before many of you were born, we had tape recorders and radios that we used to listen to music. The speaker was at a reasonable distance from our ears, and the volume that reached us varied as we moved around. But now the most popular way to listen to music, or anything, is through some sort of earbuds or earphones on different devices. Almost every cellphone owner has a kind of earbuds or earphones that is in their ears for hours on end. Many people even conduct regular conversations on cellphones through earphones.

The damaging effects of too much exposure to loud music through earphones for prolonged periods of time for adults, teens and even young children have led to serious health concerns. Experts believe that constant exposure to audio played straight into our ears is leading to premature hearing loss and related problems, particularly in the youth.

Earphones are loudspeaker drivers worn on or around the head over a user’s ears. They are electronic in nature which converts an electrical signal to a corresponding sound. Earlier these speakers were in listening devices away from our head and ears, thus not close enough to damage the delicate make up of our auditory sense. Now they are right in our ears, doing irreversible harm that is only felt when the damage is done.

A report published in the international journal Health Scope, discloses that there has been “an increase in hearing problems in younger people, so that among subjects between 6 and 19 years, about 14.9 percent had low or high-frequency hearing loss in at least one ear, also 12.5 percent suffered from audiometric evidence of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). This problem might be related to increasing use of music player devices among them. Unfortunately, the adolescents or young people expose themselves to loud noise or music for a long period, while they are unaware of its consequences.”

It also stated that “the main problem is that hearing impairments or hearing loss may not be recognised for many years; so, treatment and intervention maybe difficult when it is detected.”

The report suggests that sound intensity of more than 85 decibels can cause hearing complications and hearing loss, therefore, “ideally, one should not use earphones continuously for more than 15 minutes. There is a threat of hearing loss beyond this time.”

A 2017 Australian study by National Acoustic Laboratories found one in 10 Australians regularly listen to volume of more than 85 decibels — the equivalent to standing next to a running lawn mower — on their headphones.

Professor David McAlpine, director of research at the Australian Hearing Hub, says “When hearing damage starts, then you’re really on an irreversible journey. If you don’t protect your hearing, you’re going to damage it for life.”

He further suggests, “You need to go on a noise diet. If you’re going to a noisy gig, don’t spend all day on public transport listening to your earbuds.”

Experts recommend using headphones for no more than 90 minutes a day, and the volume should never go beyond 80 per cent. A good rule of thumb is that if others can hear the sounds coming out of headphones while you are wearing them, it is too loud. The kind of music you listen to doesn’t matter, what’s important is the volume and duration of the listening session.

Let us now look at the main problems caused by the excessive or incorrect use of these devices.

Tinnitus: In a report published in Scientific Reports, scientists found that over half of the participants of a study, who were students of ages 11 to 17, reported tinnitus and half of those noticed the tinnitus after listening to music at a high volume. The report also brings to light the amount of background sounds youth experience. Be it loud restaurants, noisy outdoor sports, or parties — young people expose their ears to loud sounds everywhere, and if they turn up the volume on their earbuds to drown out the background, they risk permanent hearing loss.

Numbness of the ears: People who use earphones, headphones and other devices for listening to loud music for longer periods tend to feel numbness in ears. In this situation the hearings ability of them gets numb temporarily. This can be harmful and cause deafness.

Ear infections: Sharing of earphone and music player devices can cause ear infections. The bacteria from ears of the users can easily be transmitted via headphones.

Sensation of pain in ears: Excessive use of earphones and headphones can also lead to strange buzzing sound inside the ears or a sharp pain in a specific point of the ear.

Harmful effects on the brain: Though there is no reasonable medical evidence yet, it is observed that people who frequently use Bluetooth, headphones and earphones are more prone to brain related issues.

Accidents: When outside sounds are blocked by the music being listened to on earphones or headphones, both drivers and pedestrians are more prone to accidents.


What to look for in a good headphone

Though not everything that is expensive is good, in the case of headphone/earphones, price matters. Most high-end headphones have had rigorous testing done and adhere to stiff regulations and standards. The problem with low-cost options is that in order to hear the finer details of the sound you have to turn up the volume, which can eventually lead to noise-induced hearing loss.

When buying headphones, check out these things:

Comfort: Make sure that the earphones or headphones fit comfortable otherwise you may end up needing to turn up the volume.

Audio quality: The better the audio quality the more you’ll enjoy them and you will also not need to turn up the volume.

Intended use: Your choice of headphone should match the intended use — whether you are using them on-the-go, at home or in a noisy place.


Tips to prevent damage to your ears

• Do not share your headphones. Sharing or borrowing headphones can transfer someone else’s bacteria to your ears, or vice versa. This can cause harmful ear infections.

• Always sanitise headphones by cleaning them with a tissue paper and then plugging them in.

• Change your sponge or rubber cover every two months because they get covered with bacteria over time. It is necessary to keep changing the covers to maintain hygiene.

• Follow the 60/60 rule — no more than 60 minutes of listening at a time, and no higher than 60 percent of maximum volume.

• Take breaks from listening to music, and never fall asleep while listening to music through earbuds.

• Avoid using stylish, small earphones which go straight into your ear canal. Go for bigger ones.

• Purchase high quality headphones as they will block more of the environmental noise, thus allowing the user to reduce the volume and still hear the music comfortably.

• Avoid using earphone or headphones every day, give your ears some rest.


Types of headphones and their effects

Open headphones: These prevent the volume from being too loud by using perforated ear cups which allow some sound to escape. But this in turn means that the user will be able to hear surrounding sounds and so turn up the volume in very noisy environments.

Closed headphones: These have good external sound isolation and thus one can control the volume level a lot better.

In-ear headphones

In-ear headphones or very good in external sound isolation so one is less likely to increase the volume. But incorrect usage, such as high volume, can cause major damage to the ears.

Published in Dawn, Young World, December 15th, 2018