[AUDITORY] How to speak to people about hearing loss and high sound pressure levels (Kevin Austin )

Subject: [AUDITORY] How to speak to people about hearing loss and high sound pressure levels
From:    Kevin Austin  <kevin.austin@xxxxxxxx>
Date:    Sun, 13 Oct 2013 01:09:50 -0400

An on-going topic -- very high level [dB] sounds, hearing loss, personal and societal responsibility. Once or twice a year I am invited and go to an event where the sustained sound pressure [dB] levels will be in excess of 95dB, and often into the 105 - 110+ dB range. I am usually long gone before the levels have drifted up to this point, however they usually start in the 85-90dB range. I use a combination of Vaseline [petroleum jelly], and water- [spit-] soaked paper tissues / Kleenex, to seal my ear canals. At the last two events I left, about 20% of the people were babies or children under 7-9. They were brought close to the speaker stacks, and the younger children enjoyed playing in front of the speakers. My question is not one about NIHL etc, which is documented, but rather one of how to speak to the people responsible, before and/or after the event about the damage that is being caused by these environments. If this were a work place, there would be laws, rules, regulations and ways of changing the behavior. In these social environments, rules and regulations don't apply. And I'm talking 3 or more hours of continuous 105+dB. There are currently two students in our university electroacoustic studies program who have reported their hearing condition to me in some detail, along with audiograms, and possible hyperacusis. Discussing this with many younger people tends towards the "teenage invincibility syndrome" [will never happen to me], and in older people, there is a general ignorance or lack of understanding, often paired with an attitude that indicates, "if it really is a problem, there would be laws about it". There are. But, in my experience, there is a fundamental ignorance of what happens, and what has been happening for the past 35 - 40 years. As the professionals in the field, what can be done? and how can it be done? Is it a matter of this "silent plague", simply eating up the hearing of those who are under 40 such that they will not be able to hear in 15 - 25 years. Recently, this appeared: Thu, 09/12/2013 >> Blake Wilson, Graeme Clark, and Ingeborg Hochmair were awarded the Lasker Award this week for their contributions to the development of the cochlear implant. The Lasker Award is essentially the American Nobel prize, and this is an incredible recognition of not only the importance of cochlear implant technology but also a much broader acknowledgment of the importance of hearing and communication by the entire scientific community. There will be several events over the next few months building on this recognition with interviews with the Lasker awardees, a dedicated one-hour show on PBS with Charlie Rose and Eric Kandel on hearing, and finally a two-day workshop sponsored by the Institute of Medicine on hearing loss in older adults in January. It is noted that this seems to be mostly about cochlea-based hearing loss in older adults. Other items on stem cell research growing back hair cells have been seen in the media. However, these reports do not address a major cause of the problem, exposure to high dB levels. As I understand it, this developing technology may have little effect on tinnitus caused by nerve damage. Are there ways to have the media take cognizance of and report on the dangerous environments which persist? As professionals, is there any individual or group responsibility regarding making this better known and the [likely] consequences more clearly understood? Is this like the cigarette situation where the 'evil' is not only socially acceptable, but expected so that the event has 'street cred'? Club owners and Rave organizers want blood-letting levels, "because the customers want it". Kevin

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DAn Ellis <dpwe@ee.columbia.edu>
Electrical Engineering Dept., Columbia University