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Loud Music Leads to Tinnitus

Your question calls to memory an incident a number of years ago when the public schools in Denton, Texas invited me to address their junior high and high school students in a session about the dangers of loud music. The presentation started out fine. I mean, here was an oddity: A deaf former musician-turned-hearing-health-expert preaching to the choir about loud music. But, beneath a few stifled yawns and growing fidgeting over the course of the 60-minute session, what really woke the kids up and take notice to my warnings came in an exchange of communication during Q&A time.

One of the boys, almost in a somewhat challenging manner, raised his hand and asked, ''What's the worst thing that can happen from listening to loud music?''

My reply took him by surprise when I explained about the condition of tinnitus (ringing of the ears). I asked if any of them have ringing in the ears now? Several hands went up throughout the auditorium.

I asked, ''Does it bother you?'' Some shrugged, some nodded, someone muttered that he heard it only at night when it's quiet.

I went on, ''Multiply what you hear now at age 15, 16, or 17 by a factor of ten and that is what you will be hearing 24-hours a day when you're 40 years old. It'll sound like loud sirens, or like an endless chorus of crickets, or, in some cases, a freight train plowing through the center of your head...both day and night.''

All of a sudden, you could've heard a pin drop. No more yawns, shrugs or fidgeting. ''For the most pronounced damage to hearing from loud noise and music is not the gradual loss of high frequency hearing---that is going to happen for sure, but you won't notice it for many years. But the ringing in the ears that starts as a tiny little sound you hear at first only in quiet that can turn into a near-piercing level of the same sounds you're missing in your hearing. And, guess what, there is no cure for it---no surgery, no magic pill, nothing short of actually clipping the hearing nerve itself. And what do you think happens when they do that?''

A young lady's hand went up, ''You can't hear anymore?''.

''That's right, hearing loss and ringing in the ears are so intertwined that you simply cannot separate the two. So, if you continue to listen at loud levels on your Walkmans, and sit for hours in movies that are turned up to bone-jarring levels, and go to stock car races, rock concerts, and what have you, you can bank your money on the prediction that you're going to some day have a terrible hearing loss and, even worse, a case of tinnitus no one can hear but you!''

Getting back to your question, I hope you'll share the above experience with your children. I can attest after nearly 3 decades of evaluating and attempting to treat thousands of middle aged adults (who believe it or not were themselves once teenagers) for hearing loss and tinnitus that has in many cases severely disrupted their lives and happiness, that the consequences of unprotected hearing during youth is real and it's going to happen...unless something is done to intervene NOW.

I've always marveled at OSHA and other regulatory agencies in situations that require---as a necessary part of one's work---minutely spelled-out standards of hearing care. I mean, those intricate, high-priced dosimeters they use to measure for potential noise damage in the work place measure in decibels and minutes---and tens of millions of dollars in workman's comp claims change hands every year as a result. And, then local movie theaters, rock concerts and you name it, end up doing far more damage, earlier in life, and in a shorter span of exposure, to human hearing than the loudest machine shop can over years of necessary work to sustain one's livelihood.

For further reading on this topic, I refer you to my article ''Sound: How Much is Too Much'' which can be found on www.digicare.org in the Hearing Library. Also, a piece that directly addresses the headphone danger issue can be found at Headwize, http://headwize2.powerpill.org/articles/hearing_art.htm. Thank you for spreading the Gospel of Better Hearing.

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