Loud and Un­clear

Lis­ten up be­fore it’s too late

Cosmopolitan (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - BY CLARE THORP

YOU PROB­A­BLY SHIELD YOUR SKIN

with SPF and your eyes with sun­nies – but how of­ten do you grab earplugs be­fore hit­ting a con­cert? The an­swer is, likely, not enough. One in five of us aged 20 to 29 al­ready has hear­ing dam­age, ac­cord­ing to new re­search pub­lished by the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC). And 1,1-bil­lion young peo­ple world­wide are at risk for hear­ing loss, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion. Most of the af­fected don’t even know it – which is dis­tress­ing, since once you’ve lost any part of your hear­ing, it’s gone for­ever. The cul­prit is, not sur­pris­ingly, tech­nol­ogy – and the ways we use it.

To­day’s ear­buds may stay put dur­ing a run, but they cause far more harm than tra­di­tional over- ear head­phones. ‘Ear­buds fo­cus the noise right into your eardrum,’ says Dr Yu­lia Car­roll, se­nior med­i­cal of­fi­cer at the Na­tional Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Health at the CDC,

‘so the ef­fect on your hear­ing is stronger.’ Mean­while, 40% of young peo­ple (aged 12 to 35) are reg­u­larly ex­posed to dan­ger­ous noise lev­els at con­certs and sport­ing events. Night­clubs and bars pump mu­sic at in­tense vol­umes. And those cranked beats that get you through spin­ning class? They may do won­ders for your butt but they’re wreck­ing your ears. Re­search shows that some work­out classes reach 94 deci­bels (dB), which is higher than the rec­om­mended noise ex­po­sure limit of 85dB.

Wher­ever you are, if noise is pre­vent­ing you from hear­ing a friend stand­ing a cou­ple of me­tres away, it’s prob­a­bly caus­ing dam­age, says Car­roll. We’re born with about 16 000 hair cells in each in­ner ear that help con­vert sound waves into elec­tri­cal sig­nals for the brain. These cells bend when ex­posed to sound, then straighten. But they’re like blades of grass: step on them once and they bounce back; crush them con­stantly and you’ll kill the lawn. Tram­pled hair cells don’t re­gen­er­ate.

One small bit of good news: noi­sein­duced hear­ing loss is tied to both vol­ume and du­ra­tion. That means you’d have to lis­ten to some­thing at 85dB for eight straight hours to cause dam­age. (See ‘How Loud Is Too Loud?’). At lev­els over 100dB, your win­dow shrinks to 15 min­utes.

‘I BLARED THE CLASH AND DAVID

BOWIE in high school, and joined a rock band at 18. My ears would ring for days af­ter prac­tice, but in my 20s I didn’t think twice about it. At 30, I be­gan hav­ing trou­ble tun­ing into con­ver­sa­tions with friends and col­leagues. When baris­tas in my neigh­bour­hood re­peated my or­der back to me, I’d just smile and nod. I thought ev­ery­one around me just needed to speak up. Mean­while, I watched Stranger Things with the sub­ti­tles on be­cause I couldn’t hear the di­a­logue.

‘Even­tu­ally, an au­di­ol­o­gist confi rmed that my muf­fled hear­ing and the con­stant ring­ing in my ears were a di­rect re­sult of the years I’d spent blast­ing (and mak­ing) high­vol­ume mu­sic. I cried when he told me. I now use hear­ing aids – but to my happy sur­prise, they’re not old-school gi­ant tan con­trap­tions. They’re nearly in­vis­i­ble. No- one has ever asked me about them. These days, I keep the mu­sic down to avoid fur­ther dam­age. At night, when all is quiet, I still lis­ten to the sound of my ears ring­ing…’

‘I’m 33 – And I Need HEAR­ING AIDS’

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