I ran into Brian Fligor Instructor of Otology and Laryngology, Harvard Medical School (which just mean he knows his stuff) recently at a conference and we got to talking about his research on IPod use. Brian is one of the pre-eminent researchers in this field having been looking at the effects on hearing of IPod‘s for some time. Brian’s latest work shows that it is the amount of sound not the loudness that affects our hearing. Certainly loudness plays a part but duration is also important.
This follows up on work Kathleen Campbell Ph.D., Professor and Director of Audiology Research at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine has done research on how the ear hears and how can its ability to endure sound over time can be increased. According to her research, excessively loud noise causes the creation of “free radicals” in the cochlea. Anti-Oxidants produced or delivered to the cochlea can, at least in part, neutralize these free radicals before they cause permanent damage. Hearing loss can happen when an excess of free radicals from too loud noise exposure for too long a duration cannot be neutralized (although other factors may play a role as well says Dr. Campbell).
Dr. Campbells’ research focuses on drugs, supplements and other methods to increase the levels of antioxidants in the cochlea to reduce or eliminate noise induced hearing loss.
All of this gets back to Brian Fligor’s proposition that loudness over time is the problem. The world is getting louder. Not necessarily because the volume is higher but because we are exposed to it constantly. We need to find some time to give our ears a rest. Either we rest them or, eventually, they’ll stop listening.