Portable players and permanent damage
Jamming to iPod tunes may have helped prime Olympic snowboarder Hannah Teter to her gold medal performance at Torino last week, but many doctors caution users of the popular personal music players that their eardrums are not immune to damage and permanent hearing loss.
Audiologists are shelling out an alarming earful to people like Teter if they crank up the volume on the MP3 players. The 30 million Americans estimated to have hearing loss is expected to more than double to 78 million in the next 20 years, according to the National Institute on Deafness.
Nineteen-year-old Teter, who lives in Meyers, has said in interviews that she played her boyfriend’s songs on her iPod during her gold medal-winning snowboarding run. While she may or may not have any evidence of hearing loss now, doctors say it could haunt Teter and the millions of others like her later down the road.
“Your body is resilient to a lot of things, but when you age your hearing gets worse,” said Dr. Chris Harjes, a Minden audiologist, who attributes much of the mounting health condition to the surge in the music devices.
Harjes, who works for Audiologists of Nevada in Minden and Reno, said he’s noticed many parents bringing their teenage children in for tests. That’s usually a clue something’s wrong. He’ll ask if they hear ringing in their ears, and they say yes.
Hearing loss, which crosses industries and generations, is essentially the breakdown of hair cells through sound waves. Sudden hearing loss rips the membranes apart. Those suffering from the condition find their social skills hindered.
Crossing the generations
South Shore busboy Gabe Ramos knows this all too well. The 20-year-old says because of his habitual use of an iPod, he suffers from hearing deficiency.
“This has happened for quite a while now. I work at a restaurant and usually have to ask the customers to repeat what they’ve said,” Ramos said while working out and wearing his iPod at the Lake Tahoe Community College gym.
Pete Townsend, guitarist with the Who, warned iPod users in Personal Computer World magazine that “they could be storing up problems for the future.”
While ear damage is said to be irreversible, there are ways to prevent further loss of hearing once it has set in. Solutions range from wearing ear protection to reducing exposure to noise. If damage has occurred, doctors recommend hearing aids. The new digital ones provide better clarity. Much of Harjes’ remedies revolve around common sense. The doctor suggests turning down the volume.
“There’s nothing wrong with wearing iPods. It’s the level in which they’re being used. You want to tell them: ‘You’re destroying your hearing, even though it doesn’t show up right now,” Harjes said. “It’s up to the parents to tell these kids (of the dangers). If you hear what they’re listening to, it’s too loud.”
Do teenagers listen?
To that, Chuck Johnson of Maryland said he has limited power with his teenagers. In particular, 16-year-old Tucker sat smug in the front seat with his iPod plugged into his ears while sitting in his father’s vehicle parked in front of Port of Subs.
“He doesn’t listen to me anyway,” he said laughing. Johnson added he hadn’t given much thought to the issue except that, when he’s in the front seat, the father can hear his daughter’s music when she wears her MP3 in the back seat.
“You’ll get these kids out here sitting at the light, and they play the music so loud it will vibrate the ground here,” he said.
An MTV.com survey revealed that only 8 percent of teenagers said noise-induced hearing loss is a problem. But 61 percent of the 9,683 teens indicated they’ve had ringing in their ears.
Loudness is measured in decibels, with 85 being the risk level. A whisper registers at 30 decibels, while running a lawnmower can hit 90dB. Race cars round a track at 130dB.
“If you worked at that level, OSHA would require you work in that environment for only a minute,” Harjes said.
Granted, personal music players aren’t the only contributors to hearing loss. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports 30 million workers are exposed to dangerous noise on the job. And according to the U.S. Department of Health safety standards, workers should refrain from being exposed to more than 90dB over a period of eight hours.
Cim Corry, who works at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe as a stage technician, said he’s required to wear earplugs on the job.
Some causes of hearing loss are more acute. Others, as in the case of Gail Hobson, are genetic.
The Meyers woman found she had difficulty hearing the telephone ringing. And her husband, Larry, accused her of having selective hearing when he spoke.
“He’d complain the ski rack was rattling, but I couldn’t hear it,” she said. “My hearing gradually got worse, but I was in denial about it. It’s difficult to accept,” she said.
She upgraded her hearing aids, and a whole new world opened up to her.
“For the first time, I can hear the tick, tick, tick of the turn signal,” she said.
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