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Hearing Loss

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Concern has been expressed that MP3s and mobile phone that play music are affecting our hearing.

This week, the European Commission has ordered the drawing up of new technical standards for MP3s and mobile phones that play music to allow for safe exposure to music

According to statistics from the UK's Royal National Institute for the Deaf, 54% of listeners to MP3 players exceed recommended limits for volume and exposure, with 20% listening at 100 decibels or more.

The Commission is also concerned that MP3 players present a greater threat to health than portable analogue players, because the sound quality remains consistent on MP3 players at high volume, instead of distorting, and this increases the temptation to listen at high volumes.

The warning to consumers could take the form of information on the screen of the MP3 player, or a label stuck on the player or its packaging

The EU's Scientific Committee of Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks said last year that the current standard of 100 decibels was not enough to protect users of personal music players, since 89-100 decibels could still damage hearing. The World Health Organization says that damage can be caused at volumes above 85 decibels.


Research shows:

. 82 per cent of Irish people aged between 15 - 24 years old wear earphones regularly (41 per cent of all Irish adults)
. 44 per cent listened to personal stereos at sound levels of 81 decibels or higher. (Equivalent noise level of someone shouting close to your ear)
. 28 per cent listened to personal stereos at sound levels of 71 decibels or higher. (Equivalent noise level of a loud conversation)
. 67 per cent of people said that they listen to personal stereos every day

ONE IN SIX IRISH PEOPLE HAVE HEARING DIFFICULTIES BUT WAIT 15 YEARS TO SEEK TREATMENT
. More than four in five of those who could benefit from hearing loss treatment fail to seek help.
. The European average of hearing device usage amongst the general population is 15 per cent and Ireland ranks below this at 11 per cent.
. More than half of all hearing impaired people are now of working age, with the number of under-55s affected growing each year.
. 12% of people aged between 55 and 74 (in the UK) are worried about their hearing loss

Who are the guests?
Jenny Greene DJ 2FM
Keith Ross, Leading Audiologist, Hidden Hearing

Jenny Greene:


When did you notice that you had a problem?
She was 24, when she realised that she had a problem. She had been working as a DJ since she was 15. On a Friday she used to DJ for 4 hours and after doing this, she found that she had ringing noise in her ears when she was back in her car.. The ringing was gone the next day but she realised that there was a problem.


What did you do about it?
Well I got a test carried out and I and there was some damage done and I had to make some changes. They said at the test that the hearing had dropped a few % on my right ear; this was due to the high noise level from working as a DJ.


What changes did you make?
I went to an audiologist and I got moulds for my ears make, this is a filter and it is just like an ear plug, I wear them when I am working as a DJ - I put my head phones over them. Now, she doesn't DJ for more than one hour and a half at the time. And it makes a difference


Does your hearing affect you now?
Well it does if I am in a pub or in a place where there is a lot of background noise. Even now, someone might say something to me in a pub or anywhere where there is background noise and I might not be able to hear it properly.
It doesn't affect my work as a DJ, as I wear a noise filter on head phones.


This week the European Commission said that it wants to introduce new standards for MP3 players and other phone device, what is your view on this?
The ear phones in MP3 players are very small and they go into the ear, so when you can hear them it is probably too loud.. I have been travelling on the bus and luas etc and quite a lot of the time it is too loud.

Keith Ross:


It's not just the elderly that are being affected by their hearing?
No actually, there is a group of people there who are called the 'baby boom' group, the group that are in the age between 25 to 55. This group of people have gone to a lot of concerts over the years and listened to a lot of music with various technologies over the years.


What is important here is that there are a lot of people out there who don't know that they have the start of a hearing problem?

They might notice it if they are in a noisy room and they can't hear very high-pitched sounds. Really anyone in this group, who notices that they might have a problem, they should get their hearing tested. It's better to have a mild problem, than develop a very serious problem later on.


Even pre-school children can be affected?
Yes, there was a recent piece of research carried out in a prep school is Boston, which showed that a 45 of pre school children out of 358 had significant hearing loss and all of those used MP3s. Which shows us that even for this group of children at a young age, we should be careful about what noise level we expose them to.


Keith, can hearing loss also affect people's confidence?
Yes, I was speaking to one professional recently who said that is hearing problem made him feel stupid. Hearing loss can make people anxious, and even depressed in some cases.
I had one 30year old girl who came to be recently and she had just been made redundant. She wanted to get a hearing aid because she wanted to be able to hear well if she goes to an interview.


This week the European Commission ordered new safety standards for MP3 players, what dangers can listening to music too loud on an MP3 player ?
Well.if you look at the figures, 82% of Irish people between the age of15 and 24 wear earphone on a regular basis. 44 %listened to personal stereos at sound levels of 81 decibels or higher. 67 %of people said that they listen to personal stereos every day. Maybe 5 or 10 % of these people are at risk
Well, if you are beside someone or of they are in front of you, and you can hear from a distance the music coming from their MP3, then there is no doubt about it, this noise level is causing that person damage..
I think that we should look at it like this. It's like children smoking, we are telling them to stop smoking, we should be telling people o stop listening to music that is too loud, in my view.


Is there any advice or guideline relating to the amount of time that people should spend listening to music to?
Some Universities talk about the 60/60 rule..
If you are going to listen to your MP3 player and it is loud, then you shouldn't listen to it in the first place. But, if you are going to listen to it and it is too loud than you should not more than 60% noise level of the maximum for 60 minutes a day. It's just a guide line, it props up in magazines.. and the guide would say that if you listen to music that is louder than 60% of the noise level, you should not listen to if for more than half and hour.

What can people do if they listen to music a lot, and are worried about hearing loss?


People should take action by doing the following:
. Acclimatise your ears to a lower volume simply by turning it down gradually - the difference will be less noticeable. It's all about what you are used to.
. Don't block out loud noises around you by increasing the volume - this is extremely dangerous.
. Headphones which fit inside the ear generally don't provide a good bass response. Increasing the volume to hear more bass can take high-tone sounds to dangerous levels.
. Take a break every 30 minutes, the risk of damage increases with length of exposure.


Keith, we can wait sometimes up to 15years (see statistics below) to get our hearing tested, even if we know we have a problem?


. More than four in five of those who could benefit from hearing loss treatment fail to seek help.
. The European average of hearing device usage amongst the general population is 15 per cent and Ireland ranks below this at 11 per cent.
. More than half of all hearing impaired people are now of working age, with the number of under-55s affected growing each year.
. 12% of people aged between 55 and 74 (in the UK) are worried about their hearing loss
Why is this?


There might also be a stigma attached to hearing loss or hearing problems. Very often people associate it with older people and they see a hearing aid and don't want to be seen with one. Actually, a lot of hearing aids are quite modern and come equipped with blue tooth etc..


Are there any signs that we might be having hearing loss?


There are a number of signs that people can look out for. for example.
1. Do you ever strain to hear when you are in company?
2. Have you ever asked others to speak up, or it appears that people are mumbling?
3. Has background noise e.g. traffic or TV ever prevented you from hearing conversation clearly?
4. Do you find that TV or radio needs to be louder these days?
5. Do you find a particular type of sound e.g. female voices more difficult to recognise than others?
6. Do you often ask others to repeat themselves

Additional Information:
. The European Commission is this week calling for a default noise limit on MP3 players because of concerns of the damage to people's hearing from listening to personal stereos too loudly . The Commission is responding to reports that the use of MP3 players at high volumes for more than one hour a day can lead to permanent hearing loss after five years.
. A survey conducted by Hidden Hearing found that 41 per cent of Irish adults wear earphones regularly and 44 per cent of people had the volumes at 81 decibels or higher, the equivalent of having someone shout close to their ear and high enough to incur damage after a sustained period of use for one hour or more.
. Hidden Hearing also carried out a noise experiment at the All Ireland Football Match between Cork and Kerry last week and found that the average decibel level was above 85db. Exposure to levels over 85db will damage hearing over time. Levels over 85db could come from listening to your personal stereo too loud, concerts, sports stadium events


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