As a busy working mother and active member of my community, I’m on the go a lot… and therefore, on my cell phone a lot too. That’s why I was concerned to hear about a study conducted by Naresh K. Panda, MS, DNB (Diplomate of the National Board of Examinations, New Delhi, equivalent to an MD), FRCSEd, professor and head, department of otolaryngology, at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India, which found an association between cell phone use and hearing loss.
In his research, which was presented last September at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery, Dr. Panda and his colleagues found that people who had used cell phones for more than four years and who talked on them for more than an hour each day were more likely to suffer from high-frequency hearing loss (which can impact a person’s ability to hear s, f, t and z sounds) than those who used the phones less. Though this early study only evaluated 100 people — and only 30 qualified for the “more than four years of use” stipulation — the hearing loss seems directly connected to the cell phones. Hearing loss was slightly higher in the right ear, which was the ear most often used when on the phone.
Dr. Panda notes that he is hesitant to recommend dramatic changes in cell-phone use until larger studies can be completed. “Only further studies can rule out other environmental factors, like noise trauma, which could also contribute to hearing loss,” he says. He points out that larger scale studies would also allow researchers to pinpoint what’s responsible for the hearing loss, and if certain phone designs or hands-free devices could minimize the risk. But in the meantime, he recommends heeding the warning signs of hearing damage — ringing in the ears, a feeling of fullness in the ears or a warm sensation inside your ear — while using the phone. If you experience these symptoms, end your call — and make fewer of them.
This warning about potential hearing loss — even though it needs more research — also serves as a reminder about cell phone etiquette, since we’ve all witnessed (and been guilty of) cell phone usage at inappropriate times and in inappropriate places. What to do? Before you pick up your cell phone, consider whether it is a call you really need to make and whether it is really a good time to make it. Sometimes, the less said, the better.