Factory workers who work with noisy machines daily, youngsters who are always plugged into loud music and people who live near areas with heavy traffic, have a high risk of suffering from what’s called noise-induced hearing loss. Doctors say that the impairment is so gradual that the person does not even realise until the damage is significant.
According to recent studies, nearly one in 12 Indians are estimated to be suffering from varying degrees of hearing loss, most of them being urban young Indians.
Out of 10,000 newborns screened from a government hospital in the Capital last year, 3% were found to have some hearing problems.
“People in their 20s and 30s come to us. They suffer from hearing loss as high as 25%. The worst part is that most of them are not even aware that their hearing has decreased until they start finding difficult to communicate,” said Dr Chanchal Pal, consultant, department of Ear Nose Throat (ENT), Moolchand Medcity.
“Almost all of these cases are of noise-induced hearing loss, as they have been victims of the growing noise pollution in the metros,” she added.
The Centre for Science and Environment’s (CSE) Pollution Monitoring Lab that tracks noise levels in Delhi, found in its recent study that noise levels are going up as high as 106 decibels in certain areas. Sudden exposure to 90 decibels and above is potentially damaging to the ear. Some of the residential areas in the Capital had noise levels touching as high as 90 decibels during peak traffic hours.
Honking and prolonged cell phone are the major reasons for noise-induced hearing loss. “Even if you are driving short distances, honking incessantly can affect your hearing as you absorb most of the released sound. Prolonged exposure can result in irreversible hearing loss,” said Dr Pal.
A lot of youngsters complain of ringing in the ear; these are those people who work in call centres and are on the phone for 8-10 hours in a day. “The damage it does to their hearing over a period of time is similar to the damage done during sudden exposure to loud sound,” said Dr Manuj Agarwal, senior audiologist, Amplifon India, world’s largest audiology service provider.
Use of bluetooth that generates a lot of heat due to high frequency wavelength can also result in turbulence in the ear and fluid accumulation and so does listening to music at high volume with earplugs on. Those who are exposed to high sound levels on a daily basis must undergo a screening once a year. Usually hearing comes back to normal within 16 hours of exposure to loud sound. But doctors say even if a person’s hearing does not get back to normal even after a week, and there is sense of blockage or ringing in the ear, it could be a permanent loss and needs to be examined by a ear specialist.
A baseline audiometry test is the best way to identify and quantitatively determine the degree of hearing loss. The baseline test costs between R500-1000, but should be done only on the recommendation of a doctor.
Hearing loss can also occur due to ear infection or sinus, which can be treated with medicines. However, in some cases, hearing loss can be congenital, by birth. Hearing loss due to damage to the inner ear, beyond the eardrum, is irreversible. Hearing aid that amplifies the sound is an option for people who are hard of hearing; for total deafness, cochlear implant is the only option.
“We use it as a last resort as it involves creating the sensory organ artificially,” added Dr Sinha.
What are the common causes for hearing loss?
Excessive noise, ear or head infections, genetics, birth defects, aging, and reaction to drugs or cancer treatment.
Are there any operations or medications that I can take to cure hearing loss?
Only 5% of hearing loss in adults can be improved medically or surgically. Most patients are treated with hearing aids.
How do hearing aids work?
Hearing aids are glorified microphones that convert sound into electrical impulses. An amplifier increases the strength of the signal, a receiver converts it to sound and channels it into the ear canal through a small tube.
Nowadays, digital hearing aids are available that can work on different frequencies.
Is hearing loss always sudden?
Most of the time, hearing problems begin gradually, without discomfort or pain.
Who do I consult if I have trouble hearing?
An Ear Nose Throat (ENT) specialist, who can tell what’s causing the hearing loss and whether the condition will improve with medicines or it requires surgery, or an audiologist who specialise in testing, evaluating and treating hearing loss.
* We can detect sound at 10 decibels and hear a conversation at 60 decibels. Noise inside a night club is 110 decibels
* Sound becomes painful as it reaches 120 decibels
* Chronic exposure to sound beyond 85 decibels for eight hours can cause irreversible hearing loss
* A 140-decibel sound impulse next to the ear can tear the eardrum. Every increase of 10 decibels makes the sound twice as loud to the human ear.