Wednesday, November 30, 2005

My wife, Ph.D., gets ink in P-G: Protecting young musicians' hearing is goal of partnership between UPMC, city schools

Wellness works wonders. Way to go musicians and scientists and clinicians and parents and teachers and open-minded, quality based performers in life!
Protecting young musicians' hearing is goal of partnership between UPMC, city schools Protecting young musicians' hearing is goal of partnership between UPMC, city schools
The quieter sound of music

In high school, kids who play football wear helmets, mouthguards and pads as protection against injury.

Langley High School senior Cherish Marshall, 17, wears her special earplugs during band class last week.

To learn more about the UPMC Musicians' Hearing Center earplugs program, call 412-647-2030. The center offers education and earplugs as outreach to other schools, as well, at the lowest cost affordable.

To learn about the Etymotic non-custom earplugs, which sell for $12 a pair, visit www.etymotic.com/ephp/er20-ts.aspx. The company's home page is at www.etymotic.com.

Kids in chemistry class wear goggles.

Kids in band class . . . well, they often don't wear any protection for their ears. But they should.

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Protecting young musicians' hearing is goal of partnership between UPMC, city schools
The quieter sound of music

Wednesday, November 30, 2005
By Katy Buchanan, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In high school, kids who play football wear helmets, mouthguards and pads as protection against injury.


Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette photos
Langley High School senior Cherish Marshall, 17, wears her special earplugs during band class last week.
Click photo for larger image.

More about the program

To learn more about the UPMC Musicians' Hearing Center earplugs program, call 412-647-2030. The center offers education and earplugs as outreach to other schools, as well, at the lowest cost affordable.

To learn about the Etymotic non-custom earplugs, which sell for $12 a pair, visit www.etymotic.com/ephp/er20-ts.aspx. The company's home page is at www.etymotic.com.

Kids in chemistry class wear goggles.

Kids in band class . . . well, they often don't wear any protection for their ears. But they should.

"The reality is that any sound that's fairly loud that goes on for a long time can damage hearing," said Dr. Catherine Palmer, who's director of the UPMC Center for Audiology and Hearing Aid Services.

That's why the center has partnered with the Pittsburgh Public Schools to provide education about hearing damage as well as special earplugs for teachers and young musicians. There is no cost for children or teachers. The program is in its third year.

Hearing loss is an irreversible, insidious process, occurring over a long period of time. Pete Townsend, guitarist and songwriter with the rock band The Who, announced his hearing loss in 1989, after years of subjecting his ears to the overwhelming decibel levels of rock concerts.

A baseline measure for determining what kind of sound is damaging is 85 decibels. Exposure to that level for more than eight hours is enough to cause hearing loss. As the decibel level goes up, Dr. Palmer said, the time in which damage is done gets shorter.

A kitchen blender creates between 80 and 90 decibels. Heavy traffic or a noisy restaurant creates 85 decibels. In a band room, particularly in an older school building that might have poor acoustics, the decibel level can reach up to 120. That's rock-concert level.

So the kids whose ears are unprotected are in trouble.


Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette

Click photo for larger image.


The problem for both high-school and professional musicians has been that common earplugs muffle and distort sound. And musicians need that feedback while they are playing.

"Over-the-counter protections often make the music sound wrong [by removing certain pitches] so musicians don't use them," Dr. Palmer said. That can make things worse, because as sound damages hearing, that hearing loss also affects how sound is perceived.

The earplugs used by the UPMC program are made by a Chicago company called Etymotic Research Inc. The students get a non-custom version, but there are also of custom models available for professional musicians.

They work by lowering the pitch of all the sound coming in the ear, making it softer, but still clear. (As a way of thinking about pitch, imagine the sound of a foghorn, that's a low pitch. A bird singing is a high pitch.)


Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette
Langley High School music teacher Nancy Addy: "Most of our rooms aren't acoustically sound, so the kids are getting pummeled."
Click photo for larger image.

"They're designed to replicate what the ear does," said Gail Gudmundsen, an audiologist and director of sales and marketing for Etymotic, "that's basically by turning the volume down."

Nancy Addy, a music teacher in her fourth year at the city's Langley High School, first learned about the earplug program when Dr. Palmer made a presentation during an in-service training day a couple of years ago.

"I was aware of the damage that could be done by loud noise, but the knowledge of these special plugs was completely new," she said. Ms. Addy, an elementary school music teacher for 11 years before she came to Langley, also said that she had been unaware of the long-term health effects of repeated exposure to loud noise -- high blood pressure, for example.

The teachers at the seminar each received earplugs for their students; Ms. Addy said the timing was particularly good because it was during concert season, when band classes are taught indoors.

"Most of our rooms aren't acoustically sound," she said, "so the kids are getting pummeled."

The plugs come with cord, much like the cords some folks use for eyeglasses, and their own carrying case, which the kids can personalize.

But Ms. Addy said the best part was the kids putting in the plugs.

"They were expecting them to [make the music] sound funny, and they didn't."

Cherish Marshall, 17, a senior piccolo and flute player in Ms. Addy's advanced band class, was a little leary of using the plugs.

"At first I didn't want to use them because I wasn't used to them, but they actually helped a lot," said Ms. Marshall, whose seat is near those of trumpeters and drummers. "Now, I can hear myself."

The UPMC program gets the word out locally, but Ms. Gudmundsen of Etymotic believes a national program is needed.

"Everyone advocates for hearing conservation, but there's no model program for music educators," she said. "We even think it would be a great idea for marching bands to sell [earplugs] as fund-raisers, instead of selling candy."

(Katy Buchanan can be reached at kbuchanan@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1523.)