Loud sound from speakers, headphones harms hearing

The ideal decibel for human ear is 85 to 90, but the music played at rock concerts, pubs and clubs exceeds 110. This could lead to permanent loss of hearing, say experts
Last Updated 20 March 2019, 13:47 IST

Exposure to loud music at pubs and concerts and on earphones is leaving many with hearing deficits.

A recent report by the World Health Organisation says 63 million people in India suffer from significant hearing loss.

Krishnakumar G, audiologist, CEO and co-founder, HearFon Hearing and Speech Clinic, says using earphones for two hours at a stretch should be avoided.

“If doing that is a necessity, give yourself a break of at least five to 10 minutes now and then,” he says.

While at a pub, concert or gym, he recommends using custom-made earplugs.

“When you are listening to music and someone asks you a question, you should be able to answer them without unplugging. If you catch yourself removing the earphones and asking, understand the volume is very high,” Krishnakumar told Metrolife.

In a month, he gets at least eight to 10 patients with varying degrees of hearing loss; he says the numbers have ‘considerably increased’ over the past few years.

Those subjected to high traffic noise through the day end up with hearing problems.

“Hawkers and traffic policemen are at equal risk. They might not realise it but high decibel sound is a silent killer,” he points out.

What precautions can they take?

“Awareness is the need of the hour. They need to use earplugs. Custom-made plugs or those made of soft acrylic material are ideal. They reduce at least 20 to 25 per cent of the noise,” he says.

Dr Girish Anand MS, Consultant ENT, Aster CMI Hospital, says many in the age group of 15-30 attend rock concerts and listen to music at high volumes.

Generally, when there is loud exposure, it leads to hearing loss for 24 to 48 hours. If this persists, they may face permanent hearing loss, he says.

“The ideal decibel that a human ear can take is 85 to 90 decibels: eight hours a day five days a week is quite safe to the ears. In a pub, the sound is 110 to 120 decibels. This definitely damages the hearing cells,” says Girish.

Soft plugs like cotton (generally, decimate around five to seven decibels) prevent sound from entering the ears. Earmuffs that covers the entire ear reduce it by up to 35 to 40 decibels.

Those clubbing and attending rock shows must keep away from the speakers. “If it is hurting you, step away from the loud music for some time,” he says.

Vasi Khan, sound engineer, GYLT and Byg Brewski Brewing Co, says, “In India, there are no decibel guidelines. In Europe, there are strict laws and the maximum a venue or event can push is 97 to 98 dB,” he says.

A governing body that understands sound should come into the picture, says Khan. Music venues should also be aware of sound systems and room acoustics, he stresses.

“The acoustics is extremely important to make sound feel natural and fill the room without pushing the volume. It has to be intelligently done,” he says.

Involve an acoustic engineer early and have monitoring devices to continuously keep an eye on what is being pushed out each night. This is not easy or cheap, according to Khan.

He advises music lovers to be proactive in protecting their hearing by using in-ear acoustic filter devices and noise cancellation. A lot of work still needs to be done,” says Vasi.

Each place is categorised as commercial, residential, sensitive or industrial area. And each of these areas has a different decibel levels.

Since most bars and pubs are located in residential areas, they can play music at a volume of 55 decibel, which is the permitted level. Another 10 decibel can be increased due to the ambient noise level, says an official from Karnataka State Pollution Control Board.

How are people with hearing loss treated?

Experts do an audiometry procedure and assess the sensitivity of hearing.

They check whether the loss of hearing is in high or low frequency.

High-frequency loss means the inner hearing cells are already damaged. Doctors suggest hearing aids.

If loss is temporary, they recommend hearing care: avoid loud sounds and plugging in earphones.

Dr Girish Anand MS

(Published 20 March 2019, 13:22 IST)

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