Teens who plug in to MP3 players constantly and spend hours at noisy clubs may suddenly realise they cannot hear when they are in their 30s.
Indeed the plugged-in generation could find themselves tuned out, as hearing loss, however mild, can be permanent, said Dr Yuen Heng Wai, a consultant otolaryngologist at CGH. “Hearing loss is rarely reversible, especially if it stems from noise exposure like listening to loud music,” he said.
Prolonged noise exposure at high volumes can damage hair cells in the ear that are responsible for picking up sounds from the environment. Damaged hair cells do not grow back, said Dr Yuen. The person will have to rely on hearing aids or undergo a middle ear or cochlea implant to help him hear better.
- In fact, 100db of noise for five minutes is enough to cause slight hearing loss.
- Noise at 100db is equivalent to that made by a heavy truck.
- In general, mild hearing loss of 20 to 40db will render one unable to hear a whisper.
- Moderate hearing loss of 41 to 65db may mean difficulty in hearing a conversation in a normal setting.
- If a person has severe hearing loss of 66 to 90db, he may not be able to hear a door slam shut.
- Profound hearing loss of 91db and above means the person is deaf.
- A person is normally born with such a hearing loss or acquires it through illness or accident, such as an explosion.
- Listening to loud music normally would not result in profound hearing loss.
- The loss of the faculty is age-related and common, and half of the world’s population is expected to have significant hearing loss by the age of 80.
However, the concern is that there will be a large number of people losing their hearing at a younger age because of the things they do. A teenage boy once approached an audiologist for a custom-made ear mould. Asked what it was for, the boy said he wanted something to channel music more clearly from his player so he could hear it over his noisy work environment.
The audiologist nixed the idea. He said: “Pumping up the volume to drown out loud background noise is very dangerous.” Over time, people get accustomed to higher and higher noise levels. Not only are young people putting themselves at risk, but they are also too shy to seek help because of the stigma of losing their hearing, said the experts. Most people perceive hearing loss to be a problem of the elderly.