Not just smartphones, listening devices can be harmful

Not just smartphones, listening devices can be harmful

DH Illustration/Ramu M

Glancing around at fellow commuters on Namma Metro is all it takes to find out the ubiquitous and beguiling presence of smartphones.

Wearing earphones, the commuters are lost in the videos and games they play on the phones, not too concerned about the health impact long-term use of the devices may have on them.  

If recent researches are any evidence, we can be absolutely sure about the impact smartphones has on ordinary people. Equally hazardous, if not more, is the fancy earphones clinging to the earlobes of the smartphone users. Doctors say that they damage the ears and cause significant hearing loss.

"I'm aware of its effects," says Ridhi, a frequent commuter on Namma Metro, who assures that she also listens to the announcements of the upcoming stations. "But listening to music (using earphones) is my habit and I will eventually give up using earphones and headphones."

M S J Nayak, audiologist and president of the Indian Speech and Hearing Association — Bengaluru chapter, and Prof T Suresh are alarmed by the excessive use of earphones on portable listening devices capable of blasting sound at 80-115 decibels directly into the sensitive eardrums.

The impact could be far worse as listeners tend to crank up the volume in noisy situations like heavy traffic. "Hearing loss happens over a period of time," Nayak said.

"It takes about five years to get noticeable. Such high levels of sound damages the delicate hair cells of the inner ear (cochlea) that converts sound waves into pulses, which the brain deciphers," he explains.

While the hair cells can be fixed, a person will experience hearing loss if the damage is severe.

Over time, the signs of hearing loss also become discernible such as not being able to catch conversations around the restaurant tables, difficulty in understanding people on the phone (especially while in a noisy place), voices muffling and missing out on softer consonants like 's', 'f', 'sh' or 'h'.

Eventually, the person may miss out on hearing the cellphone ring and have even greater problems in grasping speech.

Dr Prateek Nayak, consultant ENT, Head and Neck Surgery, said the use of earphones and listening to loud music could result in irritating the ringing sensation called "tinnitus". 

"On an average, I see at least one young patient with tinnitus. We are treating them with antioxidants and Intratympanic steroids (injected inside the ears). There is also a tinnitus masker to mask the ringing sound.  In my clinic, at least one person gets the masker in a month," he said.

What you can do: 

  • Turn your phone volume down to a safe level
  • Never listen to music at more than 60% of the volume for more than 60 minutes a day
  • Do not use earphones continuously for more than 15 minutes
  • Refrain from listening to music with noise-cancelling earphones while on the road or crossing a railway track
  • If you experience ringing in your ears or speech appears muffled, have your hearing checked periodically