Personal music systems may be hazardous to hearing

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Improvements in digital technology have meant that an increasing number of people are listening to music via personal music systems such as MP3 players and mobile phones for prolonged periods of time. These music systems are increasingly small and lightweight with considerable storage capacity and improved sound quality – which has led to prolonged use at higher volume settings, particularly among young people.

A paper published in The Journal of Laryngology & Otology (JLO) finds, alarmingly, that large proportions of young adults are listening to personal music systems at levels higher than safety levels recommended by regulatory bodies. The study finds that listening to music through personal music systems at high volume through ear phones or ear buds may be potentially hazardous to hearing.

The paper’s co-authors – from the All India Institute of Speech and Hearing in Mysore, South India – recruited 60 participants between the ages of 15 and 30 years old for their study, which looked at regular users of personal music systems and non-users of personal music systems. The researchers also used manikins to measure the output of sound pressure levels of personal music systems.

Supported by India’s Department of Science and Technology, the study found that an alarming proportion of young adults were using personal music systems at levels that could potentially damage their hearing. The study found that people who listened to personal music systems at levels higher than 80 decibels had significantly poorer hearing thresholds in high frequencies when compared to other participants. The preferred range for listening to music among participants was 51 to 98 decibels – while workplace noise regulation in the UK, for example, limits the daily exposure levels to 80 decibels.

The study also found that 33 per cent of participants reached the maximum allowable noise level after listening to music for more than four hours, while 20 per cent reached the limit within one hour – with 30 per cent of used personal music systems at levels higher than the permissible limit.

People who listened to personal music systems at levels higher than 80 decibels also showed significant difficulty in perceiving speech in adverse listening conditions, compared to other participants in the study. The authors suggest that this reduced function may be linked to damage to the cochlear structure.

However, all the participants in the study had normal hearing in the conventional frequency range, the study found.

“Our results suggest that listening to music through personal music systems at higher volume levels (over 80 dB LAeq) may not result in clinically significant hearing loss, yet may cause subtle pre-clinical damage to the auditory system, and over the years such behaviour may be hazardous to hearing,” the authors conclude.

The full paper, published in The Journal of Laryngology & Otology, “Personal music systems and hearing” by U A Kumar and S R Deepashree, can be viewed free of charge until 31 August 2016 here.

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A looming danger…

shutterstock_222042955 - loom bands
This paper reports on four paediatric patients who presented with a loom band associated foreign body in the nose over a 7-day period at a district general hospital in Scotland. The patients were two three-year old and two four-year old children with either loom bands or the S-shaped hooks in their noses.

There has been a surge in the popularity of loom bands amongst children in recent months. These small rubber bands, which can be woven together to make colourful bracelets and necklaces, have become the world’s most popular toy. Foreign bodies in paediatric nasal and aural cavities are a common presentation to ENT units across the country. Whilst most are removed without incident, foreign bodies in nasal passages represent a potential risk for inhalation, leading to airway obstruction.

Two of the cases resulted in the item being removed with local anaesthetic and forceps, and in one case, forceps without anaesthetic. In the fourth case, the hook was originally visible deep within the nasal passage, but partial inhalation into the posterior nasal passage meant that the hook was no longer visible. Whilst waiting for a senior medical review, the patient was observed to choke.  After examination, it was assumed that the patient had ingested the foreign body and after a short period of observation, the patient was released.

Although the four cases presented were resolved without the need for general anaesthetic, the ever-soaring prevalence and popularity of loom bands necessitates a degree of caution and vigilance from parents, retailers and manufacturers alike.

The authors said, “Foreign body airway obstructions in children are potentially avoidable, life-threatening events. The case series presented reflects a poor public understanding of the complications of inhaled foreign bodies in children and limited hazard advertising by the manufacturers of loom bands. There is a great urgency to rectify this in light of the ever-increasing popularity and availability of loom bands.”

 

 The full paper, published in The Journal of Laryngology & Otology, “Loom bands and young children – a tragedy waiting to happen?” by I R M Bohler, C Douglas and S Ansari, can be viewed free of charge here for a limited period.

Is Blu-tack as effective at attenuating sound as over-the-counter ear plugs?

ear plugsA new study has revealed that using Blu-tack to protect the ears can be as effective as inserting custom-made, shop-bought earplugs from Boots and Aearo.

Researchers from the University Hospital of South Manchester and the Withington Community Hospital have reported their findings in The Journal of Laryngology & Otology. They conclude that Blu-tack – a non-toxic adhesive putty produced by Bostik since the 1970s – is a ‘comfortable alternative to over-the-counter ear plugs for the attenuation of everyday sound.’

Numerous means of hearing protection are available to prevent the negative physiological and psychological effects that can be caused by the noise we are exposed to on a daily basis. Designed to be ‘affordable, comfortable, and disposable’, they aim to attenuate mid to high frequency sounds by 20-30 dB. They are usually made from foam, putty, wax, and silicone polymers and can be purchased at most pharmacies. Blu-tack can now be counted as an additional option when it comes to defending against noise.

The idea for the investigation came from main author G J Watson who, when using Blu-tack to prevent water from entering the ears following the insertion of ventilation tubes, noticed that it attenuated sound.

Nineteen volunteers participated in the study. They were provided with E-A-Rsoft disposable yellow foam plugs (Aearo), Boots Muffles wax ear plugs, Boots Flight ear plugs, and Blu-tack. Their hearing thresholds were assessed before and after the insertion of the ear plugs at 0.5, 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 8 kHz. The results were compared with hearing thresholds after the insertion of Blu-tack.

Volunteers were also asked to assess how easy to insert the ear plugs and Blu-tack were, how comfortable they were, and how much peace of mind they offered.

Blu-tack was not as effective as the ear plugs at attenuating sound at low frequencies, but performed as well as the ear plugs at frequencies over 3 kHz. And, perhaps surprisingly, Blu-tack was rated as significantly more comfortable to wear. Participants found that Blu-tack was as easy to insert as the ear-plugs, and offered them the same peace of mind.

The authors conclude that Blu-tack is

as effective as over-the-counter ear plugs at attenuating frequencies above 3 kHz. It was considered comfortable and safe to use and could therefore be regarded as an alternative option when wishing to attenuate everyday sound.

The full paper is available free for a limited time via the following link:

Journals.cambridge.org/JLO/blutack

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