Dr. Gyan Pathak
Whenever a person becomes happy, one resorts to loud music, not only for hearing oneself, but for all living in the surroundings, so that people should also come to know about the happiness. Happiness cannot be quantified, but majority among us try to accomplish the impossible task, as if they believe – louder the sound and explosion, greater the happiness. It is a commonplace scene in India, and in several parts of the world that has put over one billion youngsters aged 12 to 35 under risk of developing deafness.
The UN release issued ahead on the occasion of World Hearing Day marked on March 3, has issued a stark warning alerting the world and the young people that over one billion of them are risking losing their hearing due to prolonged and excessive exposure to loud music and other high volume recreational noise. World Health Organisation (WHO) has even issued new international safety advice to tackle the rising threat of hearing loss.
Apart from the risk to youngsters, over one billion people globally live with hearing loss, and according to recent estimates this number could rise to over 2.5 billion by 2030, the UN release has said. If it is not a mistake then the sharp rise in noise pollution is evident, because the figure of 2.5 billion was to be reached by 2050 according to the first World Report on hearing released last year. The WHO estimates that 50 per cent of hearing loss can be prevented through public health measures to be implemented by the governments alone.
The UN health agency also emphasizes that many common causes of hearing loss are preventable which included over-exposure to high volume sounds.
“Millions of teenagers and young people are at risk of hearing loss due to the unsafe use of personal audio devices and exposure to damaging sound levels at venues such as nightclubs, bars, concerts and sporting events,” said Dr Bente Mikkelsen, WHO Director for the Department for Noncommunicable Diseases. “The risk is intensified as most audio devices, venues and events do not provide safe listening options and contribute to the risk of hearing loss.”
WHO has alerted that hearing loss due to loud sounds is permanent, underlining that exposure to loud sounds causes temporary loss or tinnitus (ringing interference in the ears), and prolonged or repeated exposure can lead to permanent hearing damage, resulting in irreversible hearing loss.
The four major recommendations issued by WHO for individuals are: Keeping the volume down on personal audio devices, using well-fitted, and if possible, noise-cancelling earphones or headphones, wearing earplugs and noisy venues, and getting regular hearing check-ups.
The six new recommendations for global standard issued by WHO are: a maximum average sound level of 100 decibels, live monitoring and recording of sound levels using calibrated equipment, optimizing venue acoustics and sound systems to ensure enjoyable sound quality and safe listening, making personal hearing protection available to audiences including instructions on use, access to quiet zones for people to rest their ears and decrease the risk of hearing damage, and provision of training and information to staff.
WHO has called for new global standard to be supported and asked the governments of the world to develop and enforce legislation for safe listening and raise awareness of the risks of hearing loss. Behaviour change can be motivated by civil society organizations, parents, teachers, and physicians, who can educate young people to practice safe listening habits.
“Governments, civil society and private sector entities such as manufacturers of personal audio devices, sound systems, and video gaming equipment as well as owners and managers of entertainment venues and events have an important role to play in advocating for the new global standard,” WHO Assistant Director-General Dr Ren Minghui has said. “We must work together to promote safe listening practices, especially among young people.”
Since India is going to be the largest populated country in the world within next five years, it has the greatest responsibility to save largest number of people from this emerging problem. It is therefore imperative that India needs to rapidly step up efforts to prevent and address hearing loss by investing and expanding access to ear and hearing care services apart from developing legal framework for safe listening and implementing them, to save millions of people from not only becoming deaf but also developing other medical conditions due to high decibel sounds in many others. WHO has calculated that governments can expect a cost-effective return of nearly $16 for every dollar invested in ear and hearing cares services, and recommended that such a service be integrated with the national health plans to treat other medical conditions leading to deafness.
Not only that India must also take note of the World Report on Hearing 2021, that presented cost-effectiveness of newborn hearing screening and said “in India … life time savings (including societal costs)” was “over 500,000 International dollars per case indentified”. The report had presented a case for India for strengthening the hearing health services since the Ministry of Social Welfare was providing funding for the fitting of only 500 cochlear implants and was facilitating only 172 government, private, and empanelled centres along with only little over 300 professionals to provide post-operative rehabilitation. Tamil Nadu, due to high prevalence (0.6%) of congenital deafness has provided for free cochlear implantation for children up to the age of six year for economically weaker sections, which was commended by the report worth following a model for other states in India.
However, India needs much more hearing health services and other facilities to be created across the country. Such steps are tremendously helpful, but the major concern is that India doesn’t have enough specialists even for tackling common hearing related issues. We can take example of Delhi, the National Capital Territory, which needed at least 1075 ENT specialists to identify and diagnose all patients between 0-15 years of age with common ear diseases, however, the report said that there were fewer than 650 ENT specialists in the city. Situation is much worse in other states in the country. (IPA)
Loud music may make you deaf
Dr. Gyan Pathak