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June 8, 2003

Music lovers hard of hearing?

From: Jamaica Gleaner, Jamaica - Jun 8, 2003

Leighton Williams, Staff Reporter

ACCORDING TO the philosophy of Bob Marley and hordes of wailers, music is best enjoyed when played at volumes loud enough to disturb the neighbours.

Then there are the ardent dance fans who like to get very close to the music - so close that the legendary few 'sleep inna de speaka bax'.

However, what many persons who listen to loud music consistently do not realise is that in addition to disrupting the tranquillity of the neighbourhood, they may be well on the way to not being able to disturb even themselves.

They may be 'boom boxing' their way to deafness, even as the neighbours ask that the volume be reduced.

At present, the Jamaican laws does offer some respite for the general public's ears at night. Section 3 of the Noise Abatement Act, which came into effect in 1997, states that 'No person shall, on any private premises or in any public place at anytime of day or night (a) sing, or sound or play upon any musical or noisy instrument; or (b) operate, or permit or cause to be operated any loud speaker, microphone or any other device for the amplification of sound, in such a manner that the sound is audible beyond 100 metres from the source of such sound and is reasonably capable of causing annoyance to persons in the vicinity'.

However, that has not stopped the neighbours and sound systems from pumping up the volumes beyond the 85 decibels,the limit over which any noise can be damaging to one's ear. The enforcement by the police focuses mainly on preventing noise being a nuisance rather than protecting our hearing. Consequently, what has happened is that both the player of the loud music and those within earshot will be without that sense either overnight or over a period of time.

It could also turn about to be a case of those who will not hear will soon not be able to hear, since there are no known extensive public education campaigns, or any planned to educate the public about the hazards of ear-splitting pleasure.

"I don't think we have done enough to educate the public about this thing.

It will take money to make brochures for things like that. There isn't much that I can do. There aren't many audiologists in Jamaica. There are only three of us," explains Ronald Roberts, an audiologist at the Jamaica Association for the Deaf.

A similar statement came from an audiologist at the Caribbean Hearing Centre, Georgia Beavers, who explained that despite not doing any serious research or public education campaigns, she has written articles and has gone on radio to tell of the dangers of loud noises. However, she points out she is affected by finances.

"We speak on it (the dangers of loud noises) on air from time to time. However, we haven't done anything this year due to the stress on the economy," she said.

One possible reason for the potential mass hearing loss is the spread of digital technology, which allows music to be played at a much higher volumes without distortion than previously possible. The rise in nightclub attendance as a recreational activity has also been indicated as a factor contributing to a rise in the number of people developing hearing problems.

While no research has been done locally, Britain, Canada and the United States have either launched new campaigns or have ongoing public education campaigns educating persons about the dangers of loud music, as well as other loud noises exceeding the 85 decibel limit.

According to the British-based Guardian newspaper, a study done by the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) in Britain, shows that two-thirds of all 18- to 30-year-olds go to clubs regularly and three-quarters of them experience ringing in the ears and dullness of hearing after their night of fun.

Less than half know that the ringing in their ears is a warning sign of hearing damage and only two out of five people are aware that this kind of damage cannot be repaired.

In most cases the ringing noise disappears within 24 hours, but prolonged and repeated exposure to loud music can result in permanent tinnitus or hearing loss, says the RNID. Consequently, the group has launched a programme called 'Don't Lose The Music'. This campaign is designed to educate 'clubbers' and lovers of loud music about the dangers the fun poses to their hearing. The project is set to start this summer at festivals and clubs.

Similar programmes are conducted in both the United States and Canada. In the United States, the American Tinnitus Association does research as well as conducting public education campaigns on the hazards of loud music. Programmes of that nature exist in Canada as well.

Locally, the experts say that they have treated many young persons for the disease, with music being a major contributor to hearing loss. However, they have been unable to state how many persons' hearing problems stem from loud music since a study has never been done.

"I've had several persons who have come in. I can't give you a figure but there was one prominent person who came in during the last Carnival session. He had a significant hearing loss. Hearing loss is a serious matter," said Mr. Roberts.

Although it is a serious matter, experts agree that most of the emphasis has been on ear disease rather than prevention.

"We need some more of that (campaigns on prevention of hearing loss). It is a major problem in Jamaica, because the Jamaican culture is skewed towards music and loud music. Music is not appreciated until it's loud enough for your neighbour to hear, whether they want to hear it or not.

That it is the only time it is enjoyed," he said.

Still, for most lovers of loud music, they are aware of the dangers. However, they point out that music at a high volume gives off a better 'vibe'.

"Loud music gives you a energy and a high and it relaxes you especially when you can sing out the song you like. But I know it can affect my hearing though," said 26-year-old Kevin Daniels.

Another music lover, 30-year-old Winston Watson, agrees: "You get most vibes from loud music. But it damages your hearing in the long run. But it's for fun and enjoyment," he said.

At least one selector points out he has never experienced any problems with his hearing.

"No I have never been affected before. I know that noise over a period of time can damage your ear but it has happened to me yet," said Genius, a selector for CD sound system Nitro.

None of these persons have ever had a hearing problem, but according to the experts, how quickly one becomes afflicted by tinnitus depends on the sensitivity of the person's ear.

"Some people's ears are more sensitive than others. So you may see someone coming in the morning after a night out complaining about a ringing in their ears, while others will be exposed over a longer period of time," said Miss Beavers.

While it is of concern to the professional body and they agree that more research needs to be done, checks with the Ministry of Health revealed that there are no plans to educate persons about the hazards of loud music. Neither was such a study a priority at this time.

©Copyright2003 Gleaner Company Ltd.