One in six S'pore youth faces risk of hearing loss: Study

SINGAPORE - At least one in six Singapore youth faces the risk of losing his or her hearing because of the loud music the youth listen to on their portable players, according to a study.

The risk is higher for boys than girls, and similarly, for Malays than Chinese, said the report published in the February issue of the Singapore Medical Journal.

The study, a collaboration between Temasek Polytechnic's engineering lecturers and Singapore General Hospital's Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialists, was prompted by the discovery that 3.6 per cent of Singapore's national service conscripts suffer from hearing loss.

Loud music was suspected, and the study focused on portable players such as MP3 devices.

It found that of the 1,928 youth aged between 16 and 21 who were surveyed, 96 per cent listened to music every day for about 2.3 hours, with 17 per cent listening "at or near the maximum volume".

At such volumes, typically above 100 decibels, the risk of hearing loss is almost certain.

In fact, the European Union's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks claims that listening to an hour of loud music a week for five years puts listeners at risk of hearing loss.

Experts agree that 8 per cent of people will suffer hearing loss when exposed to such a level of noise for eight hours daily.

The risk goes up to one in four if the volume for eight hours rises to more than 90 decibels.

The local study warned that the situation could be worse than one in six youth because loud noises from other sources - such as TVs - were not taken into account, only MP3 players.

While rigorous regulations are in place to protect industrial workers from excessive noise, "little attention has been paid to leisure noise-induced damage", said the researchers.

Their other findings are: One in three boys listens to music at above 85 decibels, while for girls, the ratio is one in five.

Malays, in particular, love loud music, while Chinese listen at lower volumes.

No public data is available on the extent of the problem in Singapore, but the National Institutes of Health estimates that in the United States, 15 per cent of adults - or 26 million people - have noise-induced hearing loss caused by work or leisure activities.

Dr Yuen Heng Wai, an ENT specialist at Changi General Hospital, noted that youth are generally unaware of the risks and more reluctant to seek medical help.

Noise-induced hearing loss is "usually subtle and gradual", and is irreversible, he added. Treatment includes hearing aids or hearing implants.

But generally, the loss is in the ability to hear high-pitch sound, said Dr Barrie Tan, head of otolaryngology at SGH. So, they may miss parts of words or sentences, and have to ask people to repeat themselves.

Nanyang Polytechnic student Aloysius Tan, 22, said when commuting, he would "blast" music at maximum or near maximum volume for about two hours a day, wearing earphones.

He does it "so that I can hear the whole music and not miss anything", especially with orchestra music. He admits his hearing may be damaged because when he does not concentrate, he sometimes misses what others say.

salma@sph.com.sg

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