Parents are being warned to monitor digital device use over the Christmas holiday season as the impact of loud music can cause Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) among Kiwi children, according to a leading expert.
Dr David Welch, head of Auckland University’s audiology department, says listening to loud music may be addictive in a similar way to cigarette smoking, and more needs to be done to address its impact on society and children in particular.
His warning comes following international research which shows a rise in the rate of hearing loss among youth.
Dr Welch says global studies show around 14 percent of children may have noise induced hearing loss which could be a result of prolonged exposure to personal listening devices.
Noise-induced hearing loss is hearing impairment resulting from exposure to loud sound.
“People with this condition may have a measurable loss of hearing in a range of frequencies, but may also have impaired perception of sound in noisy environments, and this may occur alongside tinnitus, or ringing in the ears,” he says.
Dr Welch says that the maximum safe level for prolonged listening is generally considered to be 85 decibels – with most smartphones capable of producing volumes of up to about 120 decibels.
“The general trend appears to be that devices like smartphones are getting louder over time – with the latest model from one of the most popular brands capable of producing 25 percent higher volume than its predecessor,” he says.
Dr Welch says if volume increases beyond 85 decibels, the threat to hearing rises and after two hours of listening to a device at 91 dB the child has incurred a similar level of exposure to working a shift in a noisy factory where hearing protection would be required by law. .
“One girl I met through a hearing health promotion programme we run in schools lives in a crowded household and she has trouble getting to sleep, so at night she plugs the phone into the wall, puts her headphones on to the highest volume and goes to sleep. With the volume at the maximum level this would be well in excess of 100 decibels and she was going to sleep each night like this,” he says.
“Parents look at ways to limit the amount of time their children spend listening to loud music, whether it is in the car, at concerts or on devices,” he says
Dr Welch has researched the psychological reasons why we listen to music at high volume and says it’s the social function music plays in bringing people together which is partly responsible for impacting hearing health.
“There is a cultural acceptance of loud music, it’s something we have come to expect whenever we celebrate or come together as a group. For kids there is a sense that listening to loud music is cool, and it makes them feel both part of a group but also they are able to lose themselves in it, it gives them a splendid isolation and a feeling of being able to cut themselves off from anything that’s bothering them,” he says.
Dr Welch says in addition to the psychological arousal, there is a strong physiological or tactile response on our bodies which occurs when listening to loud music.
“It’s almost an addictive process of conditioning which results from the repeat exposure. That’s one of the reasons why we enjoy music in a concert setting or in a dance environment, we get the bass notes running through our whole bodies,” he says.
Dr Welch says change needs to come at a societal level with better awareness of the permanent damage which is occurring in some everyday environments.
“We can draw a parallel with smoking, which is also harmful behaviour, but one that as a society we’re just not accepting anymore. We are much more tolerant of loud music even though we know it causes a permanent injury which can destroy our lives and cut us off from the people we care about. The strange thing is that even though we know this, it still it doesn’t seem to be a deterrent,” he says.
“I’ve had people tell me that losing their hearing has felt like a ‘’living death’ to them and it’s brought tears to my eyes, to hear them suffer from something which is utterly preventable,” he says.
“There no opportunity for intimacy with people because that just goes out the window when people have to shout at someone.The only time people talk to you is when they’re shouting at you,” he says.
Dr Welch says hearing is damaged through apoptosis where noise-damaged sensory cells in the inner ear will shut down and quietly kill themselves so they can’t cause further harm.
“This process causes scarring which prevents new cells growing in their place. What’s more, the nerve fibres that convey information from the ear to the brain are also thought to be threatened by exposure to loud sound.
“We are worried that this could become an epidemic of the digital generation – our children not aware of the potential impact and may be vulnerable to long term damage as a result,” he says.
Lee-Ann Verry from Puro Sound Labs, a distributor of children’s headphones which automatically restrict maximum volume began importing the product after becoming concerned about her own children’s digital device use.
“We originally started bringing in the headphones because we were worried about the high volume our kids we’re being exposed to and we have been working hard to raise awareness of this issue in schools around the country,” says Verry.
Verry says there is a growing understanding among parents and schools that there is a real health risk associated with ongoing exposure to music at loud volumes.
“One of the concerns is that schools will often buy the least expensive headphones on the market which can produce a poor quality sound – as a result of the background noise, children will often turn the volume up to the maximum setting in the classroom – we are trying to educate against this,” she says.
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An annual initiative to find New Zealand’s most promising student entrepreneurs has launched – offering the winner a chance to compete at the international finals in Toronto.
The Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA), an initiative of the Entrepreneurs Organisation (EO) is aiming to support young Kiwi entrepreneurs.
Lester Binns, spokesperson for the NZ chapter of the Entrepreneurs Organisation says the experience provided by competition has proven invaluable to past winners.
“The GSEA awards give students the chance to compete against some of the world’s most exciting, young entrepreneurial minds.
“Student startups will be judged by a panel of successful business owners from the Entrepreneurs Organisation.
“The NZ winner will take home a $5000 cash prize as well as $1000 to attend a conference, a lunch with one of the high profile EO members and a shot at a prize pool worth almost $60,000 when they compete against finalists from more than 110 other cities around the world in Canada.
“There is also an entrepreneurial mentor prize which will provide invaluable one on one guidance for their winner at the beginning of their career,” he says.
Binns says increasingly the judges are taking into account ethical and social elements of the business.
“The competition looks at a range of criteria including social responsibility and innovation – the size of the business is less important to the judges than the promise they show as budding entrepreneurs,” he says.
To be eligible, students must be enrolled in a tertiary institution, and own a business which has been generating revenue for more than six months.
The competition entry is open until January 19, 2018. For more information or to enter visit gsea.org
A new study has found that a recently funded asthma medicine is almost twice as likely to control the symptoms of the disease than the usual medications3 taken by patients each day.
New Zealand has one of the highest rates of asthma in the world, occurring in around 20% of children and adults and affecting at least 600,000 people. The disease costs the country $800 million each year.
The new research which involved over 4000 patients, found that a significantly higher number (71%) of those treated with a medicine containing fluticasone furoate and vilanterol achieved better control of their asthma symptoms than those who continued with their usually prescribed inhaler medication (56%).
PHARMAC added this medicine to its list of funded medications last year. The medication is delivered to patients using the Ellipta inhaler.
Otago University Associate Professor Jim Reid says we have to better educate New Zealanders on the critical need to prevent their asthma symptoms from occurring, rather than try to control them when they have an episode.
“Last year we lost 70 Kiwis to asthma, many of them children and a significant number of these deaths were preventable. Taking the correct medication at the right time is essential for patients to control their symptoms and prevent more asthma attacks,” he says.
“I think we can treat asthma, but because it is an episodic disease and asthmatics respiratory function normalises between the attacks, many patients just don’t understand that they need to keep taking their medication to prevent further attacks from occurring,” he says.
“Asthma has a considerable impact on New Zealand, especially among children. We don’t yet fully understand why its prevalence is so high in this country either – it could be housing, allergens or viral triggers,” he says.
He says the results from the 2017 Salford Lung Study are a significant advancement for his field of research.
“Clinical research of this nature is usually done with highly selective patient groups. The study authors have used a new methodology which allows them to examine thousands of asthmatics with very few exclusions,” he says.
The British study, published in The Lancet, is the world’s first Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) to include a broad population of patients in an everyday clinical practice setting.
Conventional RCTs are usually conducted following strict inclusion criteria, which often exclude those patients with other multiple conditions. This study was designed to include those patients who would often be excluded.
“This gives us new, real world insights into how the disease can be better managed across a large population,” he says.
Professor Reid says while research is advancing in how we treat the symptoms of asthma we still don’t have a well-developed understanding of what causes asthma.
“Despite all of the research we are still not sure whether it’s caused by the environment, or some types of moulds and pollens, certainly if you are continually exposed to those moulds then the asthma will continue to worsen”.
“The trigger factor is the real question, especially in New Zealand where we’ve got such a high prevalence of asthma and we just don’t know why,” he says.
Professor Reid says outside of the environmental variables there is also some indication a large number of patients, especially children, are born with hyperactive airways and any sort of stimulus will cause an attack.
“We used to believe asthma symptoms were exacerbated by cold air, but now the thinking is that it’s more about the osmotic pressure of the mucosa. The mucosa can dry out when people are exercising, that’s one of the reasons why it’s good for asthmatics to swim as they can retain moisture in their respiratory tract,” he says.
The 2017 Salford Lung Study showed that a once-daily inhalation of a Breo Ellipta was noticeably more effective at improving scores in the standard Asthma Control Test (a scientifically validated test for the assessment of asthma control), than taking regular maintenance inhaler therapy alone.
Professor Reid, says patients living with asthma should have a written action plan along with medicine at home in case they experience symptoms, most importantly, he says, they need to know when to call for help.
Hundreds of Special Olympics athletes from around NZ will be screened for undiagnosed eye conditions with the support of a local charity.
More than 1070 Kiwi special needs athletes will benefit from the eye screening initiative which will see them receive specialist eye care during their events beginning in Wellington this month.
The screenings will be supported by the Essilor Vision Foundation (EVF), a New Zealand charity which provides free vision testing and glasses for low decile schools as well as screening for university students and other groups. The charity will be supporting the Lions Club International Special Olympics Opening Eyes movement at the Wellington games starting on November 26.
A spokesperson for the Foundation Gordon Stevenson, says a great number of special needs competitors suffer poor eye health, as they can be more difficult to examine, require specialist equipment and skills, and need a longer examination time.
Stevenson says the assessment process is a “significant” undertaking for the more than 60 specialist optometrists, technicians and volunteers who will screen more than a thousand competitors and manufacture lenses for the hundreds of those expected to be diagnosed with vision conditions – in just five days.
A study by Special Olympics New Zealand which provides sports training, competition and advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities showed that nine out of 10 athletes failed their Opening Eyes screening tests.
Stevenson says this is because funds are often difficult to secure for spectacle and ophthalmic care, especially if spectacles are misplaced or broken and it can be difficult for this group to maintain a current pair.
“Sadly many of many of these sports people have never had an eye examination as they often fall through the cracks when it comes to access to this type of healthcare,
“Vision development is closely associated with brain development and incidence of conditions such as strabismus, Myopia , Astigmatism and Keratoconus are noticeably higher than the wider population.
“The look on the faces of these athletes as they are able to see clearly for the first time in their lives is heartwarming for the optometrists and other volunteers – we feel truly privileged to have the opportunity to support them in this way,” he says.
Stevenson says unfortunately that in addition to correcting near and far sightedness, over a dozen other undiagnosed conditions were identified in athletes at one of the previous games they supported.
“These ranged from Cataracts, Glaucoma, Pterygium, Blepharitis, Entropion, Ectropion, Strabismus, Amblyopia, Corneal Dystrophy, Keratoconus are other conditions that were detected in the screening process during previous games,” he says.
Stevenson says many of these conditions are treatable if detected early enough.
The 2017 Special Olympics National Summer Games will be held in Wellington from 27 November to 1 December and is New Zealand’s largest sports event for people with intellectual disabilities.