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Hearing Under Assault

Friday, May 08, 2009

With the advent of iPods audiologists say they are seeing more young people with old ears. And New Yorkers have it particularly bad. In the latest installment of our month-long series "Sound Off," we explore the latest frontiers in hearing loss and ask what you can do to protect your hearing. Guests include Dr. Ellen Finkelstein, an audiologist at Madison Audiology Associates who treats music-related hearing loss; and Walter Sear, the owner of the Manhattan recording studio Sear Sound, who has seen and experienced unsafe volume practices.


Dr. Ellen Finkelstein and Walter Sear

Comments [42]

Deborah from Jersey Shore

I've found relief from my tinnitus(definitely caused by too many blasting loud rock shows/concerts in my youth) with a nutritional supplement called Lipo-Flavonoid
-been using it for about 2 years-

May. 08 2009 03:52 PM
deb from manhattan

A strong second to eligit! I used to have Bose noise-cancelling headphones but they don't work as well as the in-ear physical seal variety. (On the plane, wearing the Boses, I could hear the movie audio leaking out of the budget headphones of the guy behind me.) Five days a week I go to a gym that plays loud music and wearing my Shure in-ear phones transforms the experience. I can keep the volume on my iPod really low and don't hear the gym music or the clanking of the machines around me, so it's much easier to stay in the zone. I highly recommend the website (no "s"!) -- the people there give great advice. Also I'd recommend Shure as a brand (more durable than Etymotics, which I've also had).

May. 08 2009 02:48 PM
John from Westchester

I always listen to music in a quiet room, so the only reason left to have to turn up the volume is to block out the tinnitus (joking).
Seriously, tinnitus-anxiety is untrainable. That is, initial anxiety can go away with self knowledge. You learn over time to just ignore it. Yeah, and watch the Caffeine levels too.
So right saying that knowing the right sound levels to listen is not enough. I have to rediscipline myself to ramp back to the lowest tolerable listening levels quite frequently. Loving good rock music is a bit of a curse.

May. 08 2009 02:44 PM
Mike from Bed-Stuy

While I recognize that hearing loss is a serious issue, I object to the gentleman on the show's facetious implication that clubs should be outlawed, etc. It comes down to a choice. Maybe people should be better warned about the dangers, but I choose to listen to music (live and via in-ear earphones) loudly because it is something really important to me. I'm not able to enjoy music quietly in the same way. People choose to take risks and sacrifice certain things all the time for the sake of other things.

May. 08 2009 02:41 PM
Mike from Coram

I'm guilty! I listen to my iPhone at full volume sometimes. When i'm stressed the loud music chases it out of my head. I've noticed any problems....yet

May. 08 2009 02:41 PM
judy from NYC

I don't get the pleasure of loud music, andt it's so hard to avoid. I think the sound engineers at Bway shows are also deaf. Tthey set the sound level so high I often need to put on my headphones.

May. 08 2009 02:38 PM
Melissa from NYC

Hearing loss due to regular headphone use and rock concerts is a concern of mine -- growing up my grandfather had hearing aids as a result of being an artilary soldier during WWII. On the headphone front what I did was buy myself a quality pair of headphones -- the Sennheiser PX 200 to be exact. They cost about $100. The quality headphones allow me to have a better listening experience because I can hear the music more fully, and as a result I can keep the volume lower. Also, keeping the music lower keeps my battery from draining too fast.

May. 08 2009 02:37 PM
Charlie Roberts from Oceanport, NJ

I was the announcer at many stock car race tracks over the years and have a ringing in my right ear . . . that's because, facing the track from the judges stand (before they glass enclosed it), my right ear was subject to the loud exhaust pipes that passed from my left to my right . . .

Also, a word of warning to anyone who might go to a drag race where they are featuring "nitro" . . . funny cars or top fuel dragsters. Two of those types of race cars are louder than The Who on steroids . . . bring ear protection!! In fact, it goes beyond just hearing . . . it's a full body experience.

May. 08 2009 02:36 PM
Soundcheck producer Joel Meyer from WNYC

Hey 16, 17 and 21: Noise canceling headphones DO allow you to keep the volume much lower, says Dr. Finkelstein. Do you use them? If you do, how high is the volume on your iPod (on a scale of 1-10)?

May. 08 2009 02:35 PM
Mark from Dobbs Ferry

As a kid my hearing was good enough to know when I was approaching the TV section of any department store. The sets had volume down, but I could hear the high-pitched whine put out by the picture tubes.

Now, after drums and bands and CBGB.....I hear that whine all the time. Multiple tones, and the room need not be silent.

May. 08 2009 02:35 PM
Aldo from Long Valley, NJ

My car (SUV) is rather noisy on the highway, so I use in-ear "musician" earplugs w/ 10dB of attenuation. That way, I can turn the radio up louder, but it's attenuated going into my ear, along with the road noise.

May. 08 2009 02:35 PM
lou from Brooklyn

I've had tinnitus for years.
I blame it on the ultrasonic dental scaling device my hygienist uses - anything to that theory?

I use in-ear sound isolating ear phones - etynomic ones. Is that dangerous if I keep the level down. I need them to drown out my wife's snoring when we sleep and to play ambient sounds so as to mask my tinnitus. Bad/good idea??

May. 08 2009 02:34 PM
Anne from Manhattan

I've had hearing loss from an ear infection when I was a small child. Mostly, I can't hear people when I'm in a crowded room with lots of voices. My ear can't zero in on one voice. Why's that?

I have to say, having significant hearing loss is pretty frustrating... not funny. Whenever I tell people about my hearing loss they make this face like they feel sorry for me.

Would you feel sorry for someone who had glasses for vision impairment? Not unless they were nearly blind. So why feel sorry for those of us with a little hearing loss.

May. 08 2009 02:34 PM
Carrie from Maplewood, NJ

I've had success with Hanna Somatic Education in helping those with tinnitus. Helping release jaw & neck muscles somehow helps alleviate that ringing for some. I've heard Alexander & Feldenkrais can help as well.

May. 08 2009 02:34 PM



the etymotics are not cheap.

point taken.

the problem i have found with other phones is that a)they do not sound nearly as clear and 2)they do not block the outside noise enough.

those two things are the reason people crank their volume too high. even with lovely grado headphones if you wear them on the train (which i have actually seen) you tend to turn up the volume to compensate for the background noise. as far as i can tell you will run into this exact problem with any phones that do not physically block out the external noise. however i would guess that there are phones that block out the noise just as well as the etymotics....since the part of the design that blocks the noise is very cheap and is the electronics which are it should be possible to get lower fidelity phones that still block out noise as effectively.

the electronic noise protection phones are bs. they do not sound good and do not protect your hearing. avoid.

May. 08 2009 02:28 PM

i'm a musician and play very loud. i only use ear plugs when waiting for the other bands to finish, then i take them out when i play live. i have no problem with tinnitus. its all about duration of noise not loud sounds.

May. 08 2009 02:25 PM
Valerie Foley from nyc

Please ask Dr. Finkelstein to comment on studies. I think many of them involve forcing loud sounds on animals. If listeners don't want to lower the volume on their listening devices for any other reason, they might want to do so to lower the amount of animal testing that our deliberate self-deafening will give rise to.

May. 08 2009 02:24 PM
Julie from Vancouver, BC

I had an audiogram done 2 weeks ago and am scheduled to meet w/ my audiologist on Tuesday to test drive hearing aids. After years of listening to my walkman/iPod, going to loud rock concerts, clubs and 5 years of djing, I have moderate-significant hearing loss in both ears.

My ENT and audiologist say my spike pattern doesn't reflect this type of noise exposure, but I can't think of any other reason. I'm hearing at 70dB now and paying the price. Hearing aids at 34 years old? Not cool.

May. 08 2009 02:24 PM
JP from The Garden State

Soundcheck producer,

Its not Apple’s fault or Sony’s fault. It’s the user’s fault 100%. The fact that an Ipod has a limiter and people are still wrecking their hearing all but proves it’s the users fault. My point is that people seem so shocked that Ipods can hurt your hearing when we went through this same discussion with the same problems and effects with the walkman in the 80’s. This is absolutely not a new problem. Why is it illegal in most states to use headphones while driving? Walkman…. been there, done that...

May. 08 2009 02:23 PM

also tinnitus is proven to be psycho-somatic in most cases. if you're worrying about it all the time, you're going to hear more ring. plain and simple.

May. 08 2009 02:23 PM
Enrique from Elizabeth, NJ

I'm 26. And the only thing i regret about this show, is that my older brother (hedphones on all the time) won't allow himself to listen to it, not even on a podcast. And we all should.

May. 08 2009 02:23 PM
Ken Campbell from Harlem

I use in-ear earbuds that are designed to block out exterior noise. This allows me to listen to my iPod at lower volume and avoid the danger of hearing loss. I am amazed when I can hear leakage from other people even when I have my earbuds in. I bought stock in hearing aid companies.

May. 08 2009 02:23 PM
bob from NYC

there is no change between way how people listen to their players now nd 30 years ago. battery life back then was even longer than it is now. on one AAA good sony walkman operated for days several hours a day.
good headphones were equally good or even better than cheap headphones being added to current players.
the only difference i see is the level of music not produced by the device but requested by the user. kids these days either or not educated enough or they try to be tough or they just half deaf. i'm almost 50 now. my average dayly listening to player is about 8-10 hours. for past 10 year i've beeing used inside ear headphones. and. most the music i listen it is the most extreme metal but on the other hand very demanding classical music with lost of variations of sound level.
concussion. educate kids to read notes attache to good headphones and buy kids good quality headphones. b

May. 08 2009 02:21 PM

ha, ban dance clubs. who the hell does this guy think he is?

May. 08 2009 02:20 PM
the truth from bkny

Rock on! One day you will be rockin out to only the vibrations going through your body!

This nuts! Jeez, why do grown people need to be advised of the dangers of this?

May. 08 2009 02:19 PM
Jack from Brooklyn

eligit's suggestion makes sense, but I actually think noise-canceling headphones are snake oil. The main reason people use in-ear buds is because they came with the iPod to begin with. Most people are not going to drop $170+ on a set of fancy Etymotic ER 4 buds.

I'd recommend just getting a good/cheap pair of non-in-ear headphones. I use Panasonic RP-HTX7 headphones. Very solid. Retro-ish style. And maybe costs $30 a pop.

May. 08 2009 02:18 PM
N from Brooklyn

I'm definitely no teenager (I'm more likely to be listening to NPR podcasts), but I am definitely guilty of listening to my ipod at a volume that is too high. No matter what it is, when I am walking around in the city or I'm in the subway, it needs to be loud. I've even pushed the earbuds further in my ear because I still can't hear even though the volume is at the very maximum. I couldn't survive navigating the urban jungle without this.

What about noise canceling earphones - are those better for your ears?

PS I will try to not make my ipod so loud so the person next to me on the subway isn't bothered but I HATE when someone asks me to turn it down.

May. 08 2009 02:18 PM
the truth from bkny

Never give up Adam! Don't worry soon you won't here that pesky ringing or anything else!

May. 08 2009 02:17 PM
Dee from Manhattan

Have noticed any sound lost due to the use of cell phones, or bluetooths?

May. 08 2009 02:17 PM

here is a solution:

headphones that PHYSICALLY block out external noise will allow you to protect your ears from subway noise AND listen to your music quieter and yet more clearly.

i use etymotic er 4 headphones that fit tightly inside the ear and i am able to listen a low volume on the train and yet hear every note,word, etc.

it is the physical seal that is the key.

May. 08 2009 02:13 PM
Soundcheck producer Joel Meyer from WNYC

Hey Adam [#8]: Is it only iPod use that is affecting your hearing? Or do you attend live shows? Are you a musician?

May. 08 2009 02:13 PM
john from Annandale NJ

One of the first rock concerts I ever attended left me with hearing damage. Age 14 or so, Blue Oyster Cult. When I left the show, it was like having a pillow over my head. My ears rang for three days! A good piece of the high range was lost forever for me. Now I always wear protection, but there are some intelligent bands who know to keep it at a listenable level (i.e., Radiohead had a perfectly friendly volume).

May. 08 2009 02:13 PM
jim Campbell from brooklyn

what about "noise reduction" headphones? does this help at all?

May. 08 2009 02:13 PM
Jack from

I actually used in-hear buds in high school in the 1980s with my walkman and learned fairly quickly that it not only made my ears hurt after a while, but it can also lead to ear rashes because you're shoving this thing in there.

When I finally got an iPod I didn't use the ear-buds they came with at all. Instead I use normal non-in-ear headphones and things are great!

Just buy normal headphones and don't sweat it.

May. 08 2009 02:12 PM
Adam from Brooklyn

I love Heavy Metal and it needs to be loud! But at 28 I already notice a mild ringing in my ears when in total silence, but I can never give up my metal.

May. 08 2009 02:11 PM
Soundcheck producer Joel Meyer from WNYC

Hey JP [#2] - iPods have volume limiters that users can choose to switch on. Does that exempt them from blame for hearing loss, in your opinion?

May. 08 2009 02:10 PM
Mark from Manhattan

We should all travel with scissors (the rounded ones so that there are no accidental stabbings) and when people don't turn down these volume, just cut the cord!

May. 08 2009 02:09 PM
Tracy from NYC

Should I be concerned as I listen to Soundcheck on my headphones while I work?

May. 08 2009 02:08 PM

Darn, I'm at work, so I'm going to have to listen to this later...on my iPod, on the train, at a high volume so I can hear it over everything else. Oh, the irony.

May. 08 2009 02:07 PM
Mark from Manhattan

The great irony about all the idiots who have their headsets so loud in the subways that you can hear them at opposite ends of the train is that when these people finally go deaf, they will want to sue Apple, Sony, and all the other manufacturers. They should not be allowed to sue for rudeness or stupidity!

May. 08 2009 02:06 PM
JP from The Garden State

There was this thing called the walkman… It was a huge success. When it first came out, people did all kinds of stupid mindless things while using it like getting hurt crossing the street because they were in their own little world when they had their headphones on. It quickly became an epidemic. Numerous studies where done that proved this walkman device could actually hurt your hearing. People thought the walkman rage would go on forever like house prices would climb forever…

How quickly we forget our very own short history. So why are we surprised that ipods can wreck your hearing? Is it because people actually think our lord Steve Jobs would not put out a product that might empty your wallet and wreck your hearing all at the same time?

May. 08 2009 01:53 PM
stu in nyc

When on a bus or train, if you're wearing "in-the-ear" headphones and someone else can hear your music, then the volume is too loud, and the earpiece is not properly placed in your ear. However, no one will tell you it's too loud because they don't want to start an altercation (physical or verbal), so turn it down anyway.

May. 08 2009 10:15 AM

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