Time flies when you are listening to that audiobook or advancing levels on that gaming app or racing on a movie marathon. Before you realise, it has consumed half a day already.
“WHO recommends a safe daily limit of 85 decibels (dB) from all sources of sound — equivalent to the noise of a food blender or heavy traffic. But many earpieces deliver as much as 100dB of sound which can lead to severe sensorineural hearing loss, if exposed even for a short duration of a few minutes” remarks Dr Anand Warrier, Interventional Neurologist at Zurich University Hospital, Switzerland.
Headbanging to loud heavy metal music on your headphones can be seriously more harmful than a pub or concert setting in a large open space. Even there, the volume levels are way beyond safe limits quite often.
“Loud noise created by man made materials is not natural for ears. Although these sounds, like rides of amusement parks, are amusing to us specially to the younger ones, our ears are not evolved to listen to these sounds. Noise induced hearing loss is irreversible,” warns Dr Arvind Kumar Kairo, Associate Professor in Department of ENT, Head and Neck Surgery, AIIMS New Delhi.
It is important to realise that our ears are not evolved or attuned for various sounds which we listen to in our modern times. This is not just about factory sirens or fire alarms or construction noises or bombs/bullets but it also includes our man made music, movies and so on.
“Studies from tribes living in absences of metal (most common component for noise creation today) show almost no age-related hearing loss which we considered physiological till these studies were carried out. Animal studies show more damage to the architecture of the inner ear when young animals are exposed to noise compared to older animals. With advances in personalisation of entertainment, kids are more exposed to noise than ever before,” adds Dr Kairo.
Hence it is even more vital to shield our babies and children from prolonged use of high volume headsets and speakers during their ages of development.
Sophisticated Headsets and Prolonged Usage:
With more R&D in headsets, there is a new wave of highly sophisticated background noise cancelling headsets and pods. Again, our ears are not designed naturally for these types of settings.
“Noise cancelling devices are designed to cut off the surrounding noise and deliver the sound at lower decibels to the ear. But poor quality devices can result in poor noise cancellation and hence higher resultant sound intensities to be delivered to the ear to get the desired effect. This is more for within-the-ear type of earbuds rather than over-the-ear type earbuds by around extra 9-10 dB. In a randomised trial of 1,000 students in India, high frequency hearing loss was reported in 8% of students who use headphones for more than 2 hours, and 2% in those using it for less than 1 hour per day,” adds Dr Anand.
When your ears get accustomed to higher volumes within tight earpods, the sensitivity to pick lower volume sounds in the surroundings (after removal of earpods) get eroded slowly. If you are an avid wildlife spotter or jungle camper, this could even sound/prove deadly!
Gadget Addiction and Mental Health:
In addition to the strain gadgets put on our ears and eyes, it can affect mental health too. Young ones are more vulnerable.
“Children are being exposed to gadgets for a long time, for play and education purposes resulting in failure in developing mirror neurons leading to difficulties in reciprocal interaction and language delays,” says Dr Jamila K Warrier, Child Psychologist, Kerala Institute of Medical Sciences, Trivandrum.
Virtual classrooms and online courses for kids in the comfort of homes come with a price too.
“More children are getting addicted to online life leading to reduced outdoor games. This inturn is leading to social withdrawals, obesity, reduced concentration, increase in aggression and temper tantrums. Increased gadget time has considerably reduced the attention span of children and the number of ADHD cases have increased drastically,” adds Dr Jamila.
Virtual life creates mental health problems in adults too. “These days gadget addiction often leads to ‘hijacking reward pathways’; meaning it eclipses the motivation, rewards and pleasure one gets from other things in normal life,” explains Dr Kannan Rajendran, Psychiatrist who works at Govt Medical College Hospitals in Kerala.
Reduced social life during lockdown has even led to increased online gambling games amongst the rich. “Uncertain-reward-outcomes like gambling are a lot more addictive for the brain than certain-reward-outcomes like smoking or drinking or food. The unpredictability element of gambling makes it more exciting,” adds Dr Kannan.
Moderation and Mindfulness Necessary:
Although this sounds alarming and grim, things aren’t too bad yet. Humans have just begun their tryst with audio-visual gadgets from an evolutionary time frame and there is still time to practise moderation and mindfulness on these matters. As they say, a stitch in time saves nine!
(The author is a scientist and science writer)