Can ear/headphones cause hearing loss?

A black man using smartphone, communicating online in earphones on blue studio background, copy space. Cool African American guy having virtual meeting on mobile device. PHOTO| SHUTTERSTOCK

Dear Doc,

I have noticed that my left ear’s ability to hear weakens whenever I use ear phones. Is it normal?


Dear James,

It is possible to have reduced hearing in one ear compared to the other one. This could be due to exposure to a loud noise, especially if you routinely put an earphone in one ear only or for the ear that you use to receive phone calls. There is a higher risk of developing hearing loss if you use ear/head phones for longer and if the volume is high. The symptoms of hearing loss include having a ringing/buzzing/hissing sound in the ears (tinnitus) and muffling of sounds.

The hearing loss can also be due to wax impaction, illness in the ear, injury to the ear, brain injury or inherited hearing loss. It is advisable for you to see a doctor for an ear check-up. If there’s an infection or wax impaction, this can be treated. If no obvious cause can be found, then you can have hearing tests carried out by the ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) specialist and audiologist, and you will be advised accordingly.

In the meantime, use low or moderate volume when using ear phones (50 to 60 per cent of maximum volume). If people around you can hear what you are listening to through your ear phones, then the volume is too loud. Also avoid loud noises as much as possible, take listening breaks when you are using ear/headphones such as a five-minute break every 30 minutes, and don’t use ear/head phones for longer than 60 minutes. Using headphones is safer than using earphones, though the volume should still not be loud and don’t use them for too long. You can also download a sound level meter app to alert you when the environmental noise is too loud.

Dear Doc,

I am a woman in her late-thirties and lately I have realised that the temperature of my urine has been rising. What could this signify? Do I have a health issue that needs to be addressed?


Dear Nancy,

Burning or hot sensation when passing urine commonly occurs when you have an infection within the urinary tract (UTI). UTIs are quite common in women and are mostly caused by bacteria that live within the intestines and travel to the urethra. The burning can also be caused by having kidney stones, injury to the urethral opening or vulva, chemicals irritation from spermicides and bath lotions and some medicines like those used in chemotherapy. Acidic foods and drinks like caffeinated drinks, soda, alcohol and citrus foods can also contribute to a burning sensation.

Another common cause of burning urine is dehydration. When you don’t take enough water, the urine becomes quite concentrated, has a darker colour and a stronger smell. The concentrated urine can then cause irritation of the bladder and urethral lining; causing pain when passing urine. If you sweat a lot, then your hydration requirements are even higher. Ideally you should take eight glasses of water, that is, between 1.5 and two litres per day. This is actually good for the healthy functioning of your body and it should not feel like an inconvenience.

You need to have a urine test done to check for infection and any other abnormalities. Antibiotics will clear the infection and there is medication that can be given to reduce the burning sensation. Take adequate amounts of water, use clean toilets, don’t hold your urine for more than six hours without urinating, wipe yourself from front to back, wear cotton underwear and avoid tight fitting trousers.

Dear Doc,

What is Alzheimer disease? Does it afflict the older (aged) people only?

Dear reader,

Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain where there is progressive shrinking of the brain and death of brain cells. It causes dementia - a continuous decline in memory, thinking, making judgements, behaviour and personality changes that eventually affect a person’s ability to take care of him/herself and interact with others. In the last stages, the disease affects normal bodily functions like swallowing, bladder control, and balance and increase the risk of developing other health problems like falls, poor nutrition, dehydration, constipation, diarrhoea and recurrent infections, which can eventually lead to death. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of memory loss and dementia, though there are other possible causes.

There is no exact known cause of the disease. There is a higher risk of developing the disease if you are older than 65 years, if you have a first-degree relative with the disease (parent or sibling), history of head injury, excessive alcohol consumption, poor sleep habits, long-term air pollution, smoking or exposure to second hand smoke, lack of exercise, obesity, high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and uncontrolled diabetes. On the other hand, lifelong learning and continuous social engagement lowers the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed from an explanation of the symptoms, examination and brain imaging tests. There are some medications given which may temporarily improve or slow down disease progression, but there is no cure for it. The most important thing is to provide support for the individual at whatever stage of the disease, and provide a safe environment, good nutrition, exercise, social interaction and engaging activities. Those caring for an Alzheimer’s patient also need support.

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