Thursday, May 01, 2008

Constant exposure to racket of daily life takes its toll on hearing

Article in the P-G about wellness -- that quotes Catherine V. Palmer, Ph.D. (my wife).
Constant exposure to racket of daily life takes its toll on hearing: "Constant exposure to racket of daily life takes its toll on hearing
One of Catherine's classic quotes is in the article:

"It is an invisible problem," Dr. Palmer said. "If loud music made your ears bleed, something would be done about it. But the damage can take 10 years before you notice."
Gushing blood flowing out the side of a head would do plenty to promote hearing protection. But, it doesn't work that way.

This is another classic and one where lots of work has unfolded in changing behaviors.

One day in the future, a high school or college marching band will show up for a Pittsburgh Labor Day Parade and NOT have hearing protection for its members and be sent home. Being sent home, without marching in the parade, with instruments still in their cases will come with healthy hair cells working as they should within those sensory organs.

Could you see a high school football team take the field for the kickoff and opt to NOT wear their helmets? They would not be permitted to play the game.

Nice article.


Anonymous said...

Constant exposure to racket of daily life takes its toll on hearing

Wednesday, April 30, 2008
By David Templeton, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Photo: Karl Maasdam/Associated Press
Leaf blowers are among the many modern noisemakers that can cause insidious damage to hearing.

People who spent time with John Fehr knew something was amiss. He answered questions that weren't asked and misunderstood those that were.

Eight years ago he finally got his hearing tested and now wears hearing aids.

"What happened to me is typical of the things for our generation, including loud music," said Mr. Fehr, 57, of Mt. Lebanon. "I was not a super concert-goer, but it had an effect."

He also swam in the North Atlantic Ocean as a child, which, he said, caused the bones in his ears to thicken and narrow his ear canals.

Hearing loss is a problem many baby boomers share in a loud world where decibel levels are rising by the day. Ear-splitting machines -- trucks, motorcycles, ambulances, even lawn mowers -- are everywhere among us.

Then there's the ear-shattering music we pump straight into our ears with iPods and MP3 players. For many baby boomers, the big ear buster, as Mr. Fehr mentioned, was rock music that began deadening many an inner ear decades ago and now is taking its toll.

Dr. Catherine V. Palmer, a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center director of audiology at the Eye and Ear Institute, says her office deals daily with the dire results of baby boomers living with decades of exposure to the daily blare.

"If you have a hearing issue -- and one-third of boomers think they do -- get a hearing screening to determine if you need a hearing aid," he said.

It brings stern warnings: Protect one's hearing -- or what's left of it -- against ear-rending hobbies including music, auto-racing, motorcycling and snowmobiling. Dr. Palmer recommends the "EARS" method:

E: Earplugs or earmuffs.

A: Avoid loud sounds.

R: Reduce volume.

S: Shorten the time exposed to noise.

Avoiding loud noise is necessary for musicians, hunters and motorcyclists, among others. Dentists who use high-pitched drills all day long suffer hearing problems.

People also should not rely on technology to solve their hearing problems. Hearing aids, even with modern-day sophistications, cannot replicate natural auditory quality.

"You don't return normal hearing," Dr. Palmer said. "Damage to the inner ear is a sensory loss" that cannot fully be repaired or corrected.

Hearing aids amplify sound but the sensory loss makes it harder to distinguish between pitches. Because hearing aids must be adjusted to a person's specific hearing problems, Dr. Palmer recommends an appointment with an audiologist, who holds a state license in audiology.

If not, a person might not get top results from hearing aids, which cost $2,000 to $6,000 per pair, she said.

People often ignore hearing loss because it causes no pain when it's initiated.

"It is an invisible problem," Dr. Palmer said. "If loud music made your ears bleed, something would be done about it. But the damage can take 10 years before you notice."

The ear is a complex organ. Sound enters the ear canal and vibrates the ear drum, which sends sound waves down a series of bones to a smaller drumhead of skin that transfers sound waves through fluid into a snail-shaped system in the inner ear. That system contains a series of hair cells that respond to different pitches in the fluid and send responding sound signals to the brain.

Damage occurs first in high pitches because the hair cells picking up those pitches are first in line inside the snail-like contraption in the inner ear.

Anything over 90 decibels (about the sound created by a circular saw) can cause damage.

"This is something we can do something about," Dr. Palmer said. "We have to protect what hearing we have left."

Many workers with noisy jobs nowadays wear hearing protection. In San Francisco, Dr. Palmer said, places with live music must provide ear protection for customers or sell low-cost hearing protection.

It doesn't take much to damage hearing. Conversation is safe, but more than 40 hours a week in a noisy restaurant or factory or even the noise levels of a vacuum cleaner can lead to damage.

More than five hours on a lawn mower or in a subway are unsafe. Listening to a live band for more than 21/2 hours or 11/2 hours at a sporting event, using a chain saw or operating a snowmobile will cause damage.

Even musicians in a symphony orchestra face hearing loss because they're so close to loud instruments.

Only five minutes in a blues bar or rock concert, where decibel levels reach 115, causes damage. A jet engine, gunshot or firecracker causes instantaneous damage, according to a brochure provided by Etymotic Research Inc., which produces ear plugs for musicians and others at risk of hearing loss.

Students are required to wear goggles in chemistry class and helmets on the football field, Dr. Palmer noted. So why aren't members of the marching band required to wear ear protection? It takes only seconds of exposure before a band member sustains hearing damage in marching band.

Military service poses perhaps the highest hearing risk. Many people returning from the Iraq war now suffer hearing loss, she said.

As for iPods, if a person at arm's length from you can hear the music, it's too loud. Dr. Palmer said people can use such devices safely if they keep the volume at safe levels.

Age doesn't necessarily result in hearing loss. The culprit is cumulative damage over the years. That's the case with many baby boomers who've spent a lifetime riding loud machines, listening to blasting music, firing guns and exposing their ears to daily excess.

"The world is louder than it has ever been," Dr. Palmer said. "Baby boomers care about their cholesterol and exercising and want to be healthy longer. Protecting their hearing should be part of that."

Mr. Fehr said no one should delay getting a hearing examination. With hearing aids, he said his life has improved. Besides, if all the boomers who need hearing aids actually got them, the price would come down, he said.

"It won't get better on it's own," Mr. Fehr said. "If anyone gives you an indication that your hearing is an issue, it doesn't hurt to get a hearing test."
David Templeton can be reached at or 412-263-1578.

Anonymous said...


Hearing loss hurts couples

In a recent survey of baby boomers, Energizer Battery Inc. found that nearly half of respondents felt their marriage has suffered because of their spouse's hearing loss.

The survey polled men and women age 44 to 62 and found:

Being hard of hearing can cause hard feelings. Nearly seven of 10 respondents said they feel annoyed when their spouse cannot hear them. About 16 percent felt they were ignored with 8 percent feeling saddened or hurt.

About 60 percent of respondents said they talk louder so their spouse can hear them, while 83 percent said by talking louder they felt their spouse had a better understanding of what they were saying.

While 45 percent believe their spouse doesn't hear chore requests, 77.5 percent say their spouse does hear them fix a snack, raising the issue of selective hearing.

Half believe their spouse is in denial about their hearing loss. Dr. Bary Williams, an audiologist associated with the survey, said couples must work together and encourage healthy hearing habits.