‘To hear for life, we have to listen with care’ – UP audiology expert on how to prevent hearing loss

Posted on November 29, 2022

A study recently published in medical journal BMJ Global Health shows that 1 billion young people are at risk of noise-induced hearing loss.

“The damage is not instantaneous but cumulative over time, and can often only present itself much later in life and potentially accelerate age-related hearing loss,” says Professor De Wet Swanepoel of the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology.

Noise-induced hearing loss is the leading cause of hearing damage among youth, typically as a result of unsafe listening habits, which are prevalent among people between the ages of 12 to 35. Such practices can lead to serious harm being done to the ears. According to the BMJ article, adolescents and young adults regularly listen to audio at high volumes for too long.

“I listen to all my favourite songs through earphones and I play my music on full blast while I am on campus,” says final-year UP student Kutlwano Gazide. “I want to feel the music, not just hear it. I also enjoy hanging out with friends at social events where the music is loud, and we have fun.”

The World Health Organisation estimates that one in two young adults are at risk of hearing loss.

“The factors that increase the risk of hearing loss are a combination of how loud the sound is and for how long you listen to it,” Prof Swanepoel says. “You can listen to your favourite song at a loud level, but then turn it down to a more comfortable level thereafter. Unfortunately, damage to your ears is permanent and irreversible. That’s why it’s so important to take good care of your hearing so you can enjoy it for a lifetime.”

You are more likely to find yourself in a noisy environment during the festive season, and with the World Cup taking place this December as well, young people are expected to be around high volumes for longer periods on a regular basis. It is essential that preventative measures are taken to mitigate the risks of hearing loss during this time.

Prof Swanepoel offers some tips on how to do that during the festive season:

  • Keep the volume down.
  • Use earplugs in noisy places.
  • Limit the amount of time you spend engaged in noisy activities.
  • Monitor sound levels with mobile apps.
  • Check your hearing regularly.

Hearing loss is preventable but irreversible once the damage has been done.

“Hearing is a gift,” Prof Swanepoel says. “It connects us to the people we love and makes listening to our favourite music possible. Being cut off from the sound we love can be devastating and it’s irreversible. That’s why to hear for life, we have to listen with care.”

- Author Prudance Minyuku
Published by Hlengiwe Mnguni

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