1 in 6 Singapore Youth Faces Risk of Hearing Loss: Study

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a preventable cause of acquired hearing loss. Currently, much focus is directed to workplace NIHL. In recent years, portable music players (PMPs) such as MP3 players and smart phones have gained a popular acceptance from the public and there have been a rising number of young adults utilizing these devices at increasingly higher music volumes. Locally, there is a perception that our youths are being exposed to potentially damaging noise levels from use of personal music players.

According to the study conducted and the report published in February 2014 issue of Singapore Medical Journal. It was found that up to one in six young persons in Singapore are at risk of developing leisure noise induced hearing loss from music delivered via earphones. In the study that was carried out amongst first year polytechnic going students, it was found that a significant percentage (16.4%) of the 1928 youths surveyed listened to portable music players at volume levels that contravene the industrial and workplace limit of 85 dBA averaged over 8 hours.

Based on projections used for industrial noise on these exposure levels, it is predicted that 2.93% of these youths will develop noise induced hearing loss due to portable listening devices in their lifetime. This works out to 1308 new cases of NIHL per year. By comparison, the number at NIHL diagnosed each year due to excessive workplace noise is 360 or 0.4% of the resident workforce tested. The study recommended that similar measures be taken to educate and protect our youth on the importance of hearing conservation. The study also found that male students were more likely to listen to music at louder volumes than female students.

The study also went on to measure the health of the hair cells of the inner ear of these at risk students and compare them with the other students by measuring their otoacoustic emissions (OAE). The OAE test can be used to pick up changes in the inner ear before the usual hearing test. It was found that students who are exposed to excessive leisure noise have poorer OAEs compared to their other counterparts.

Many people neglect their protecting their hearing because NHIL is gradual and one may not notice any significant disability until it’s too late. Part of the issue here is also the lack of awareness amongst the young about the importance of protecting their ears. For example, exposure to 100dB of noise for 15 minutes can cause permanent hearing damage. Some entertainment venues have noise levels in excess of 100dB, some students are listening their music players these levels routinely and are unaware of the damage it can cause.

While general relationship between over-exposure to sound and resulting hearing damage seems to be understood by young people, the challenge is to educate people to take this message personally. Our public health campaign needs to convey that good listening habits will allow people to enjoy hearing music now but also enjoy it for a lifetime. The message to our young people is to follow the 60/60 rule. That is to listen to music players at not more than 60% of the maximum volume for not more than 60 mins before taking a break.