Malaysian children as young as 12 getting hearing impaired

PETALING JAYA - Malaysia is getting noisier and people as young as 12 have been found to be suffering from impaired hearing because of the loud environment.

Private hearing care centre Bay Audio Malaysia tested about 4,000 Malaysians at roadshows since January and discovered that one-third of people who took a five-minute hearing test showed hearing loss ranging from mild to severe.

Most of them are above 55, but we also saw teenagers as young as 14 showing early signs of hearing loss, said senior audiologist Mr Andrew Campbell.

They are not the youngest victims. Consultant Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon Dr K. Gopalan Nair saw three youngsters aged 12 and 13 with impaired hearing this year.

Their parents brought them to me because they no longer respond when they are called.

Their parents had to shout, said Dr Gopalan, who practises at the Lum Wah Ee Hospital in Penang.

Last year, Dr Gopalan saw at least 10 teenagers with similar problems.

If these teenagers do not realise that they are damaging their hearing by listening to their mp3 players or iPods at loud volumes, they might require hearing aids when they reach the age of 30 or 40, Dr Gopalan said.

Dr Gopalan also said nerves damaged due to prolonged exposure to loud noise may lead to tinnitus a symptom marked by the hearing of ringing sounds in your ears.

But noise-induced hearing loss is not only due to loud music from mp3 players or iPods. Experts say the world that we live in today is simply noisier.

Mr Campbell, who took sound measurements from a few local nightclubs, has recorded sound levels as high as 110dB (decibels) to 123dB louder than hand drills and power saws.

Its only safe to be in such an environment for less than 15min, Mr Campbell said.

A check by The Star using a mobile application created by The Swedish Work Environment Authority around the city recorded high levels of noise blaring from speakers at night markets (about 94dB) and even on trains (as high as 110dB) combined with the screeching of the coaches on track.

According to occupational health doctor Dr Abed Onn, more young people are showing signs of early hearing loss even before they start working in noisy factories and other workplaces.

Although little formal study has been done on noise-induced hearing loss in Malaysia, Dr Abed said many young people have shown early signs of the ailment when they were tested before starting work in workplaces clearly defined as noisy.

Dr Abed believes that hearing loss is one of the top three occupational diseases in Malaysia alongside lower back pain and upper limb muscular disorders.

The damage done to the hearing system is irreversible, and hearing loss is harder to correct the longer it is left untreated, Mr Campbell said.

He also said the safe levels for those who use headphones to listen to music is less than 60 per cent of the maximum volume for an hour a day.

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