HEARING PROBLEMS

That noisy matatu will cost you your ears - Expert

Hearing loss can be temporary, however, long exposure to loud music can lead to permanent damage.

In Summary

• Hearing loss can be temporary. However, long exposure to loud music can lead to a permanent damage, where vital parts of the ears get damaged beyond repair

• “Avoid the noisy matatus as it will cost you your ears in a few years. If you have no option, do check the location of the speakers before you seat. Don’t seat below the speaker or in front of it,” Dr. Opindo said.

A Rongai matatu
A Rongai matatu

Approximately a quarter of the 830,000 Kenyans who use the public means in Kenya face impairment in hearing which has risen in the past two decades.

With one in 10 people suffering from the problem, data from the World Health Organization also shows that 49 per cent of those with hearing impairment are men, while 51 per cent are female, indicating there are hardly gender differentials on the matter.

More than 600,000 Kenyans cannot hear properly, and many more might lose their sense of hearing due to extremely noise-polluted environments.

This can be in their workplaces or in public transport vehicles that play loud music in spite of prohibitive laws by National Environment Management Authority.

Passengers board a matatu headed to Jogoo road at Tom Mboya street
Passengers board a matatu headed to Jogoo road at Tom Mboya street
Image: Charlene Malwa

The Star’s Margaret Wanjiru talked to Myles Mwakio, a tout along the Rongai-Nairobi line; known for their loud music and neck breaking speed, to get to the bottom of why they do that.

“Just like any other business, time really is money. The faster we go, the bigger the chances of us making more rounds,” Mwakio told the Star.

‘Nganya’ is the local name for the new, stylish and colourful 14 seater matatus.

Mwakio says their aim is to give their passengers an unforgettable experience which they in turn have to pay for.

“Charges are Sh100 per person, and you get to enjoy the latest music, watch dope videos, sit comfortably and reach your destination fast,” he added.

At least you get to make the decision to get your ear drums busted for a ‘nice’ experience.

On the other hand, there are matatus that never play any music, but once it hits the road, the driver blasts the speakers with loud music and you have no option but to pray you reach your destination fast because the noise is unbearable. 

Doctor Richard Mwangi performs an ear check-up on on patient at his IncusEar Hearing and ENT Centre located along Ngong Road.
RISING CASES: Doctor Richard Mwangi performs an ear check-up on on patient at his IncusEar Hearing and ENT Centre located along Ngong Road.
Image: MAGDALINE SAYA

According to Dr. Opindo Henry, an ENT specialist in Nairobi, hearing loss decreases ones ability to understand speech and the surrounding sounds.

“In some cases, hearing loss can be temporary. However, long exposure to loud music can lead to a permanent damage, where vital parts of the ears get damaged beyond repair,” Opindo said.

He also said that not only do matatus play music that is more than 70 decibels but also the devices and phones we use in our day to day life can largely affect our ears.

Manufacturers are not required to limit the maximum sound output of music devices.

Fortunately, many devices do have volume limiting controls, which allow you to set the maximum volume to a safe level.

“After leaving a very loud event, matatu or removing your loud headphones and earphones, you may notice that you don’t hear as well as before. You might not hear whispers, sound might seem muffled, or you may hear ringing in your ears.

"Normal hearing usually returns within a few hours to a few days. This is because the hair cells, similar to blades of grass, will bend more if the sound is louder. But they will become straight again after a recovery period,” he said

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) says that the average person is born with about 16,000 hair cells within their ear.

The cells allow your brain to detect sounds. Up to 30% to 50% of hair cells can be damaged or destroyed before changes in your hearing can be measured by a hearing test.

By the time you notice hearing loss, many hair cells have been destroyed and cannot be repaired.

Opindo advised regular screening of ears at least twice a year and advised parents to be keen on the noise exposure to their kids.

“Avoid the noisy matatus as it will cost you your ears in a few years. If you have no option, do check the location of the speakers before you seat. Don’t seat below the speaker or in front of it,” he said.

Opindo advised people to walk with ear plugs or ear muffs for extra hearing protection.

To facilitate hearing checks, WHO last year developed a mobile and web-based software application for hearing screening.

Known as "hearWHO", the free application for mobile devices allows people to check their hearing regularly and intervene early in case of hearing loss.

The app is targeted at those who are at risk of hearing loss or who already experience some of the symptoms related to hearing loss.

One of the few ear clinics in Kenya are Incus Ear Hearing and ENT Centre on Ngong.

NEMA's noise regulation, currently being enforced by the County Governments, prohibit production of any loud, unreasonable, unnecessary or unusual noise which annoys, disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health or safety of others and the environment.

It states that any person who is likely to be involved in activities that emit noise or excessive vibrations beyond the permissible levels must obtain a license or a permit respectively from the authority.

Next time before you board a noisy matatu, do consider the long term effects.