Ways to protect your hearing
As more and more children use earphones and headphones to video or voice chat and listen to music, damage from everyday loud noise among the younger generation has seen a marked increase. Chinese youth today are at a higher risk of hearing problems or hearing loss. But how can parents protect them from developing hearing problems? What are the danger signs? Metropolitan talked with Mo Lingyan, chair of the ear, nose and throat (ENT) department at Beijing United Family Hospital (BJU) about this issue.
Metropolitan: Can you explain how you measure the loudness or softness of sound? Also, what’s the loudest sound adults and children can tolerate without damaging the eardrum?
Mo Lingyan: An audiometer, which can present tones of various frequencies in various intensities or loudness, is used to test one's hearing. By having the patient raise their hand or press a button to indicate that they heard the sound, we can measure the softest sound that a patient can hear at each frequency in each ear. Usually, sound at 100 decibels will cause pain in the ears.
Metropolitan: What’s the effect of using headphones and earphones for a long time? Can they cause hearing loss?
Mo Lingyan: Loud noise can damage our hearing by killing the hair cells in the human hearing organ. The damage depends on the length of time the individual is exposed to loud sounds and the loudness of the sound itself. If the sound is too loud, one's hearing can be damaged in a second. But if it is not too loud, the duration of exposure will determine the degree of hearing loss. Take the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulation for permissible noise exposure as a reference. The exposure time for sound at 85 decibels is 16 hours, and it is eight hours for sound at 90 decibels. It is the same for headphone and earphone use.
To avoid noise-induced hearing loss, shorten the listening time for loud sounds. It is OK if the volume is in the low and mid-range. However, it is suggested that people not listen to portable listening devices in public areas like on buses or the subway because these places are so noisy that they might turn the volume very high to a point that can be harmful to their hearing without noticing. For ear care, wearing headphones or earphones will increase the risk of infection for people with sensitive skin.
As for kids, human hearing is fully developed after birth. So, hearing damage in kids is the same as that of adults. If the sound is uncomfortably loud, it is usually an indicator of harmful levels.
Metropolitan: What are the symptoms of hearing loss? Also, what are some of the ways to help the ear recover from partial hearing loss? Can loss of hearing be restored?
Mo Lingyan: For noise-induced hearing loss, depending on how bad the exposure is, there will be ringing in the ears, muffled hearing or aural fullness (a sensation of blockage in the ear) after noise exposure. It is advised that people stay away from loud noises to protect their hearing or help recover from noiseinduced hearing loss. For mild damage, it usually takes 24 hours to recover. If there is no relief of symptoms after 24 hours, medical intervention is needed. If the damage is severe, hearing loss could only be partially restored or even irreversible.
Metropolitan: This summer, many families will go to the beach and swim. What are the ways to prevent water from entering the ear canal?
Mo Lingyan: Swimming in most swimming pools or the sea is not a problem for healthy ear canal skin. However, when there is repetitive physical or chemical irritation, such as scratching or too much chlorine in a swimming pool, the risk of a bacterial or fungal infection in the ear canal increases. It is advised that people plug their ears when they go swimming.
Metropolitan: When is the best time to see an ENT specialist?
Mo Lingyan: An ENT specialist appointment is needed for noise-induced hearing loss, when there is ringing in the ears or when hearing loss or aural fullness does not go away after 24 hours following exposure to loud sounds.