MTV Generation Not Attuned to Hearing Loss

Nearly two-thirds say ears are ringing as they leave rock concerts

Steven Reinberg

Steven Reinberg

Updated on April 04, 2005

MONDAY, April 4, 2005 (HealthDayNews) -- While the high-decibel entertainment young Americans enjoy at rock concerts and clubs may be wrecking their hearing, most music fans say preventing hearing loss remains a low priority, a new MTV-based survey finds.

But there's good news: Once made aware of the potential for permanent hearing loss, many kids interviewed said they'd consider using earplugs when noise levels rise to dangerous highs.

Earplugs "don't disturb the enjoyment of the music, and they protect your hearing so you can continue over the years to enjoy music," said lead researcher Dr. Roland Eavey, a professor of otology and laryngology at Harvard Medical School.

His team reported their findings in the April issue of Pediatrics.

The idea for the study started when Eavey noted that music fans leaving concerts and clubs often had ringing in their ears and heard muffled sounds. "I'll bet these kids don't realize that they are going to do potentially permanent damage to their hearing," he thought.

Investigating further, his team devised a 28-question online survey that they posted with the cooperation of MTV on the channel's Web site. In only three days, they received nearly 10,000 completed questionnaires.

Among the responders, just 8 percent rated hearing loss as a significant health problem, falling far behind sexually transmitted diseases (50 percent), alcohol and drug use (47 percent), depression (44 percent) smoking (45 percent), nutrition and weight issues (31 percent), and acne (18 percent). "Hearing issues are practically off the radar screen," Eavey said.

However, 61 percent said they had hearing loss or ringing in their ears after rock concerts, and 43 percent said they had similar problems after being in clubs.

When the researchers asked how many had worn earplugs, only 14 percent said yes. "Hardly anybody knew about earplugs," Eavey said. But more than 60 percent said that if they knew loud noise, such as rock music, could cause permanent hearing loss, they would try earplugs.

If the advice to wear earplugs came from a doctor, then it was more likely to be effective, Eavey said. "If your parent told you to wear earplugs, they weren't terribly interested."

Eavey wants to make wearing earplugs 'cool.' "We want to turn it into a positive, like sun block and sunglasses."

Most earplugs sold in drug stores are fine, the hearing expert said. "You can look on the box to see how many decibels of protection you get. And get the ones that offer the most protection," he added.

Of course, cranked-up iPods or Walkmans are hurting America's hearing, too, Eavey added. As a rule of thumb, he said, "if somebody else can hear the music, then it's too loud."

Once noise-induced hearing loss occurs, there is no going back, warned Dr. David L. Katz, an associate clinical professor of public health and director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine.

"So there is some danger intrinsic to rock 'n roll, as well as sex and drugs. Without intruding into the rights of young people to be young people, we still somehow have to convey this message, and make it matter," he said.

"We must seek ways to get young people to apply enough good judgment to protect those older versions of themselves from lapses in judgment that lead to irreparable harm," Katz said. "We have to find ways to make kids understand they can rock on -- and keep their hearing, too."

More information

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders can tell you more about noise-related hearing loss.

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