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“Make Listening Safe”


“Make listening safe” was the theme for the 2015 World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Ear Care Day celebrated on March 3. This theme has come about as a result of the concern of the rising problem of noise induced hearing loss. WHO has estimated that some 1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss due to unsafe levels of noise from personal audio devices which includes Smart phones, iPods, and exposure to noise at entertainment centres.

According to a recent study by Siemens Hearing Instruments in New Jersey (USA), teen hearing loss may be on the rise with one in six teens showing hearing loss symptoms often or all of the time and nearly 9 in 10 engaged in activities that could place them at risk for hearing loss.

It could be wrong on the part of Ghanaians to push this problem on the western world. This is because in the last two years or so we have seen in vogue the use of earpieces attached to phones in Ghana- a very common practise to see in public transports, private cars and on the streets. Even when the person is expected to be doing active listening to customers, you see ear pieces in their ears (sometimes quite annoying to the customer though). It is a fact that once you can hear the sound from the earpiece in another person’s ear, then the sound is too loud for the user’s ear.

Hearing loss may be caused by various factors; some people may be born (congenital) with it or may occur due to trauma during delivery or after birth (acquired), as a result of complication or infection. Later in life hearing loss may occur due to illness, hereditary (running in the family) noise or side effects of some drugs.

The acceptable level of sound which would not be harmful to the ear is 85dB (decibels) for 8 hours, one can be exposed to a noise of 100dB for 15mins only. Therefore any noise in excess of 85dB poses a temporary or permanent danger to the ear. From the acoustics course, an increase of 3dB is twice as loud e.g. 80dB + 80dB =83dB is twice as loud.After engaging in risky hearing practices such as listening to excessively loud music or using power tools without any hearing protection, people may experience ringing, roaring buzzing or pain in the ears. These symptoms may go away within 24 hours once the noise source is eliminated. However, with continuous exposure one would begin to have a more permanent damage which is irreversible.

At the first international conference on prevention and rehabilitation of hearing impairment in Beijing, China in 2007, (the celebration was initiated in Beijing China and has been marked since-2000), March 3rd was named the International Ear Care Day, to be an annual advocacy event aiming at raising awareness and promoting ear & hearing care all over the world.

There is a specific theme chosen for each year with corresponding activities set out by WHO and its partners. The year 2014 was marked under the theme “Ear Care Can Avoid Hearing Loss”. The target for this theme was all age groups and events were held worldwide to mark the day. A report was released by WHO on multi-country assessment of national capacity to provide hearing care.

In this report WHO estimated 360million persons-32 million children with disability hearing loss (5.3% of world population). Countries like Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, and Guinea DRC held several events, some lasting the whole week to create awareness.

For 2013 with the theme, “Health care for ageing people”, global data on the number of people with hearing loss was released. Multi country assessment of national capacity to provide hearing care. For Ghana it showed availability of less than one Audiologist/ one million people (1:1,000,000), this was the same for ENT Specialist and Speech Therapist. Currently Centres available for management of hearing and speech problems are also very scanty and a move must be made nationally to provide these services to citizens.

It is recommended that people using personal audio device keep the volume down or use noise limiting or noise-cancelling head/earphones (note that most of our earpieces available are of inferior quality and do not have this feature). Also buying headphones (one that has cups that covers the ears) instead of earpieces/ earbuds (one that inserts into the ear) are preferred.
Earplugs can also be worn to reduce the loudness one is exposed to in loud environments like concerts, sporting events and operating power equipment such as generators. Alternatively, reducing the time spent in noisy places by taking breaks in between would be helpful.

People involved in playing in the band should use custom-moulded musician’s earplugs and high decibel earplugs.
Do you feel any change or discomfort in your hearing abilities? The ENT Specialists and Audiologists are readily available to help you.

I recommend and urge these groups of health care professional to support the WHO in marking the day in Ghana next year for the Hearing health of our dear Ghanaians.
WHO urges Government (Law enforcers) to check noise in our environment. Parents, teachers have the role of educating their young people about safe listening.

It is the duty of every citizen to support the hearing health of Ghanaians. As it is a hidden disability with debilitating effects on the individual’s socio-economic life.
A quote from Dr. Etieme King - WHO Director of the Department for Management of Non Communicable diseases like Disability, violence, & injury prevention, “the young people “as they go about their daily lives, doing what they enjoy more and more, young people are placing themselves at risk of hearing loss”. They should be aware that once you lose your hearing, it won’t come back.....

Written by
Jemima Fynn (Mrs)