By YINKA OLUDAYISI FABOWALE, Ibadan
He has done it at least thrice now to the discomfiture of his father. He would suddenly hold his head in his two hands and wince in pain, complaining of severe headaches.
It was as well that Samuel Tomiwa was home on forced holiday declared but recently called off by the management of the University of Ibadan where he is an undergraduate, or else, the persistent health problem would have escaped the notice and early intervention of his parents.
Taken for treatment at a private hospital in Ibadan, he was diagnosed as having possible migraine resulting from excessive use of mobile phone and its accessory, earpiece, that probably affected neurological and other sensory organs, notably the ear and eyes!
Although the doctor would not swear on the validity of his diagnosis without relevant clinical tests yet, he was persuaded there was a likely
relationship between Tomiwa’s confessed addiction to the electronic device and the ailment.
The fact is, the 17- year- old is a compulsive cell phone freak who stays on the phone almost 16 hours of the day, either listening to music, playing games, receiving or making calls and/or browsing.
Many times, his parents had, had to reprimand him for staying up with the phone when other members of the household had gone to bed. sometimes till about 3am!
His case typifies that of so many youths exposed to the risks of excessive use of cell phones, which has been proven to have harmful effects on human health, apart from the veritable distraction and other health hazards it constitutes.
But, it is not just youths that face the dangers that exposure to and use of mobile phones bring. Adults and indeed, all phone users, irrespective of age are at risk, so long as they abuse the usage of the electronic device, say medical experts, researches and even the World Health Organization (WHO).
One of the major consequences of such abuse is hearing loss (deafness), which Ear-Nose-Throat (ENT) experts declare can arise from the use of phone earpiece,
An ENT surgeon and consultant at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan Dr. Aderemi Adeosun, confirms that the use of cellphones and earpiece generally have been found to have negative impact particularly on hearing. He explains that the earpiece is a mini loud speaker which emits sound for the user to hear effectively, but notes that in the use of it quite a lot of people abuse it adjusting the volume higher than what is expected and in so doing, exposing themselves to too loud a sound that at a certain volume is referred to as noise. “Noise itself has negative impact on human health generally with particular effect on the ear, because when we get exposed to a loud sound, the hearing is affected overtime and such an individual is likely to suffer from Noise induced hearing loss later in life,” says Dr. Adeosun.
He explains further: “For example, a factory worker that goes to work and works on a machine that emits very loud noise, this individual works on the machine eight hours a day five or six days of the week and the loud level that is safe is for such individual is 80 decibel or less 75 decibel. But, if it is higher than this, it leads to damage of the inner ear. The ear has three components, the outer, middle and inner ear, the inner ear is where we have the organ of hearing and balance and this organ of balance is very delicate that a very loud sound will damage those cells overtime. This individual after certain years of exposure to such noise then start to notice that the usual conversational sounds that he should hear, he is not perceiving them any longer. When people talk to such persons at close range they will be asking- ‘What do you say? Pardon me, can you raise your voice?’ That is the beginning of signs of hearing loss and can lead to permanent hearing loss which cannot be reversed.
“On the use of earpiece, the user needs to be aware of the danger inherent in the tuning of the volume, if it is not properly monitored or controlled the ear is exposed to loud noise and the damage is just like the worker in the factory. Earpiece use might look harmless, but I must say that if is not properly used as recommended, it can lead to hearing loss due to noise.”
As a safeguard, the ENT expert says: “It is advisable to use the phone handsfree”, although he admits it might not be possible to always do that, especially when someone has something confidential to discuss in a public environment.
Although he notes that it has not been directly linked, Adeosun says: “Most of the patients that we have seen who have issues with their hearing, when we take their history and ask them where they work, what other things they do which may involve noise exposure, we have discovered that almost every patient that comes with hearing challenges tell you that they use earpiece once a while, and so it cannot be said as I speak that the earpiece use may be the major cause of hearing loss.
On a possible link between headache and excessive use of phone/phone earpiece, the University of Ibadan medical lecturer says there are different mechanism by which the effect of noise can manifest besides hearing loss. “For example a neighbour who uses a very loud generating set at night for electricity, the neighbour who is closer to the machine is exposed to noise and that will obviously disturb the sleep of that neighbour. Lack of sleep itself can create some neurological or behavioural changes in us and noise has also been linked to causing increased blood pressure in some individuals. Probably the individual that you mentioned had, had issue with sleep from excessive exposure to noise, unknown to him or her, this had gone to some systemic manifestation which the other physician felt might be the reason for migraine, that is a possibility. We also need to bear in mind that hearing is a neurological function of the body and when the nerves are kept on edge for too long a time, such feelings will come about like feeling occasional tension in the head and such things are linked to stressful situations that we get exposed to which we are not aware of.
“Again (Although I may not be exactly competent to speak on it) all these electronic devices and the communication mechanism are based on the principle of electromagnetic radiation. In the past people who handle table/desk computer usually complained of strain in their vision due to exposure from the screen of the monitor, this has not really been eliminated totally from all the devices we carry about, though persons who are always fixed at a position using the phone at all times will have this impact on their sight, atimes we may not be aware that we look too much on our cell phones thereby exposing our vision for longer period than necessary. We blink regularly, but when you are stressing your vision on such devices the mechanism of blinking should be more frequent to prevent dryness of the covering of the eye. All this exposure to these devices will put a lot of strain on the muscles of the eye, so they have their negative impact.
“Also with regards to ear, when we use our cell phones and place it over the outer ear to receive messages or discussions on phone, the elecromagnetic mechanism that is making you connected to the other speaker on his own phone is activated at that point in time, so all that portion of the ear is exposed at that point in time to the effect of the radiation. If you use a phone for too long in a particular conversation, by the time you finish you feel some heat, the phone has generated some heat and this heat has been transmitted even to the outer ear. You know, when the GSM revolution came to Nigeria I went online to read a lot about it and I realised that it is not as safe as people think it is. Even in some countries they refused the use of base stations in their neighbourhood, because they know that base stations generate radiations. Each time they are installed apart from the vibrations of the generating set, the radiation itself is almost present.
To protect one against harm, Dr. Adeosun advised the use of radiation protector which one stamps on the portion of the phone that has contact with the ear.
“I recall a particular study where a cellphone was placed round the brain membrane, ideally when the brain membrane is normal blood should not flow across not even protein, but in this laboratory study, they discovered that when the phone is activated the membrane allowed more protein to cross, it was not restricting the flow of protein, which means that each time the phone is activated and placed closed to our ear we are altering the physiological function of that part of our body.
I want to encourage people to use the cellphone with some restriction, make your discussions as brief as possible, but if it is going to be prolonged use hands free so that the phone is not too close to the ear, or the brain each time it is used for a long period of time.”