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Risk of hearing loss increasing: experts

People at a concert at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium
People at a concert at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium. Cambodia has been labelled a high risk country for hearing loss from recreational sound pollution. UY NOUSEREIMONY

Risk of hearing loss increasing: experts

Increasing exposure to damaging sound levels in recreational areas and the unsafe use of personal audio devices are putting Cambodians, especially teenagers and young adults, at a high risk of hearing loss, health experts said yesterday.

In a statement issued on Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that at least 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults globally are susceptible to hearing loss due to growing exposure to recreational noise.

Nearly 50 per cent of teenagers and young adults aged 12-35 years are prone to hazardous levels of sound from improper personal audio device use while 40 per cent are vulnerable to potentially harmful levels of sound at entertainment venues, according to a recent WHO analysis of data from middle- and high-income countries.

Although low-income countries weren’t included in the study due to a lack of data, Dr Shelly Chadha, WHO’s prevention of deafness and hearing loss technical officer in the Geneva headquarters, said that the threat is “very real” within the general Cambodian population.

“Cambodia is seeing the same trends with regards to recreational noise so the risks are present there too,” Chadha said.

In the National Institute of Statistics’ most recent Cambodia Socio-Economic Survey, 4,155 Cambodians had hearing disabilities.

NGO Deaf Development Programme (DDP) director Charlie Dittmeier, however, said the current number is much higher, with 51,000 profoundly deaf and half a million hard-of-hearing people in the Kingdom.

“Cambodia is a very noisy culture, which is evident through the wall of speakers present at most weddings, funerals and advertisements in the streets,” said Dittmeier. “Due to these factors and people playing their music really loud, the problem is only getting worse.”

Under the 2014 Disability Rights Initiative Cambodia, the government is planning to initiate some programs targeting hearing loss prevention and increasing hearing impaired people’s access to health and rehabilitation services.

The government also plans to take over the deaf school operated by NGO Krousar Thmey in 2020 and is working with DDP to develop a hybrid Khmer-American sign language, Dittmeier added.

But to further combat the problem and lessen risks, Chadha recommended that the government focus on prevention.

“Prevention, after all, is easier and cheaper than cures.”

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