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  • Take Aim: Amy Sciarretto vs. Andrea Boidman for Hearing Health Foundation

    Tue, 21 May 2013 16:21:45

    Take Aim: Amy Sciarretto vs. Andrea Boidman for Hearing Health Foundation - It's Better Hearing & Speech Month

    The Hearing Health Foundation is a national non-profit organization dedicated to curing hearing loss through groundbreaking research while raising awareness about valuable prevention techniques.

    Since we're all music fans, we must remember to take care of and to protect our hearing so we can keep listening. Acts like Coldplay's Chris Martin have spoken out about suffering from tinnitus, which is chronic ringing in the ears.

    We spoke to Andrea Boidman in honor of May being Better Hearing and Speech Month. Hearing Health Foundation (HHF), which we said before is a non-profit dedicated to finding a cure for hearing loss through innovative research, has launched a campaign to encourage individuals to pledge online to get their hearing, or a loved one's hearing, tested. To take the pledge, please visit hhf.org.

    Boidman offered a crash course in how to protect and support your hearing, music fans, since loud music and concerts can damage the precious sense.

    Can you explain in as simple and digestible terms as possible so our readers "get" it -- how are you working to cure hearing loss?

    Absolutely! There are tiny cells inside the ear that, when damaged by noise, or age, or certain ototoxic medications, cause hearing loss. The role of these cells is to convert sound into electrical signals and send them to the brain, but when they are damaged they can't send those signals. There is a wonderful video on our website that shows how sound travels to the brain and the role of these cells.

    We learned about 25 years ago that chickens have the ability to regenerate these cells spontaneously when they are damaged. Subsequent research has shown that almost all animals – except for mammals – have this ability. We're working to translate what we know happens in chickens, birds, fish and amphibians to people. And we are getting closer!

    Through our Hearing Restoration Project, we've organized a consortium that is sharing data and working collaboratively to expedite the timeline to a cure for hearing loss. One of our consortium members, with his team at Mass Eye and Ear Institute/Harvard Medical School, recently was able to stimulate regeneration in an adult mouse. This is the first time ever that we've been able to get an adult mammal to regenerate their inner ear cells, and we know that it's just a matter of time – and research funding –before we'll be able to regenerate inner ear cells in people and restore hearing biologically.

    Can you offer tips or suggestions to musicians and live music fans on how to protect and preserve their hearing?

    We have a slogan we coined, "Walk/Block/and Turn." Walk away from a loud sound, block with earplugs or earmuffs when you are near loud sounds and turn down the volume of stereos and mp3 players.

    I always suggest that those with smartphones download a very inexpensive decibel meter app. This app, which has been tested against professional equipment is very accurate, measures the environmental sound and can let you know if you are in "the danger zone!" Anything over 85 db (decibels) can cause hearing loss if one is exposed for prolonged periods of time.

    We actually have a great chart on our website that identifies some everyday sounds and what is too loud. For example, more than 15 minutes per day of sounds over 100 db can cause a hearing loss; an mp3 player at maximum volume is around 105 db. An ambulance is around 120 db, and daily exposure of more than 1 minute at 110 db can cause a hearing loss! As you can see, understanding when you are exposed to dangerous sound levels can really help you know when you need to use hearing protection. It's also important to remember that both volume and duration contribute to hearing loss. I would also add that when you know you will be at a concert (or near another loud sound) you should balance your day with quieter sounds. It's sort of like calorie counting; if you know you are going to have a big dinner, have a smaller lunch!

    I have been to 2000-plus concerts in my life, and I don't always have earplugs. Do you have any "think on the fly" suggestions? I plug my ears and used napkins before!

    Concerts can be really loud! A rock concert is usually around 120 db, and can be even louder, so it's really important to always use earplugs when you go to a concert. I always carry some in my purse – but I realize that's easier for women to do! You should always pick up earplugs on your way to a show; many venues sell them but you can also get an inexpensive but good pair at any drugstore. Some companies, like Etymotic, make really great musician's earplugs for around $13, which reduce the volume by about 20 db but allow you hear frequencies clearly so it's as though you are not using earplugs at all. They absolutely don't muffle sound the way, say, a silicone earplug may. That said, if you find yourself without earplugs you should use your hands. It will still block the sound, but your arms will get tired!

    90% of those shows I have been to have been heavy metal shows, yet the loudest show I HAVE EVER been to was One Direction, thanks to the shrieking girls. Yes, One Direction were louder than Slayer and a stack of Marshall amps, due to the fan response. Can you give us some tips for young concertgoers and tell them how to protect their hearing, as well?

    It's really the same advice – walk/block/turn –and use earplugs or earmuffs for kids! I remember in 1993 when Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love took their daughter to the MTV Music Awards and she was photographed wearing huge earmuffs – of course, it's probably a better idea to not bring kids to loud concerts, but if they are there and I know that there are many concerts just for kids, they should definitely be using earmuffs. Also, remember the "walk" part of our slogan in addition to the "block" part – sitting farther from amplifies will help!

    Visit Hearing Health Foundation for more information.

    Will you use these tips to protect your hearing?

    —Amy Sciarretto

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