Thursday, 23 April 2009

How detrimental are iPods to the hearing you still have?

”PEOPLE don’t look into the sun to see if it damages their eyes,” says Dr. Robert Sweetow, director of audiology at UCSF. “It continually amazes me that people don’t realize if you blast your ears, you’re going to hurt your ears.”

The innovative, stylish and incredibly popular Apple product, the iPod, which has taken the world by storm with its strikingly subtle features allowing large amounts of data to be stored and listened to at any given time. The iPod was in the news this month, due to the unlikeliest source, as the device can now upload videos and still pictures, it has been claimed to have won the Carling Cup at Wembley thanks to Ben Foster’s heroics in the penalty shootout. Foster was watching footage of Tottenham Hotspur’s penalty-takers, which had been prepared by Eric Steele, Manchester United’s goalkeeping coach. Alex Ferguson saw the video and rearranged his squad accordingly, leading them to victory.

More wonderful free publicity for Apple I thought, then I reminisced. Four years ago in the few remaining weeks of the G.C.S.E History class, a spiky-haired classmate of mine smugly brought in an iPod, playing it loudly and I said ‘In a few years time, you’ll be like me’ which he laughed off promptly claiming his hearing was fine. Of course it was fine, he had only just got it and the impact it makes is more long term... then it hit me as to the reason why my tinnitus has worsened over the past year or so. It was barely comfortable as it was since I contracted meningitis at the age of three, but the tinnitus was largely ignored, progressively worsening by the year.

In order to block it out, I listen to whale noises before I sleep to combat the high pitch frequencies I hear, which ironically must have been caused by listening to my iPod at high volume, which of course I shouldn’t do, but then how else would I be able to hear it?

Perhaps I should explain; I have a total of five per cent hearing in the left ear and seven per cent in the right, diminishing by the day leading to the audiologist to state in 20 years time I’d hear nothing. Now with the mp3 abuse I predict he is approximately six years off, taking into account the results of the levels test in 2008. Never mind this, what concerns me is the impact iPods will have on the Hearing in 10 to 20 years time, and also the Deaf.

We’ve heard all about the impact it can have on the Hearing teenagers, and how leading audiologists claim a rapid decline in hearing has increased as people approach middle age as opposed to previous years. One such analytical audiologist at Northwestern University in the U.S found ‘ Ear buds are placed directly in the ear and can boost the sound signal by as much as six to nine decibels. It’s enough to cause hearing loss after only about an hour and 15 minutes,’ which, as shocking as it may sound, is not surprising when you consider the widespread use of ear-buds.

Clearly it shows the worrying impact of the magnitude of decibels enforced upon the ears, citing its 110db volume similar to that of nightclubs and the sweat laden DJs. Also it is more detrimental then factory noise: this is concerning as many factory workers at my father’s steel constructing firm have retired due to terrible, sudden hearing loss. So if these men cannot cope, how on earth can the Deaf, who already have extremely low levels of hearing? Meningitis caused my ear-drum to inexplicably collapse, but could placing an ear-bud so far into the ear cause similar damage?

What is needed is a scientific test to collaborate all these little pebbles of knowledge to form a warning to the teenagers, London Tube users and runners on the streets that their favourite device is in fact soon to be their Achilles Heel. Large organizations such as Phonak need to play Devil’s Advocate.

There are many issues to be resolved in the world at the current time however such as the economic crisis and job losses, but with the continuation of ignorance, many people in 10 years time, will be like me: unable to sleep until 5am due to the rattling, strange high-pitch noises causing sleep deprivation. Or when talking in the street, desperate to hear the friend telling you about the night before and as you try to lip read, you find yourself falling into a trap of isolation.

It’s not pity nor sympathy that is required, but awareness.

By Benjamin Stonehouse

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