I recently read that Eric Clapton, legendary musician, is suffering from tinnitus and is loosing his hearing. While this does not surprise me it does give me pause to be sympathetic. Extremely loud rock concert venues produce levels of damaging sound that if converted to simple physical assault would be considered a crime. Clapton is only one among many “rockers” who will be affected.

In my case it was unprotected shooting as a child and teenager. Then as a young adult I was drawn onto what was then called Hi Fi music – played loudly. It was thrilling. My concert experience was limited mostly because, although I loved the music, I disliked the noisy intrusive crowds that seemed more interested in the noise they made than the music being made. So, I rattled the rafters at home. Probably just as harmful as concert volumes.

Clapton is 72. I was 66 when friends gently “confronted” me and my deafness. I was essentially unaware of my condition. I just turned the volume up to acceptable levels and unconsciously developed the ability to read lips (today called speech reading) quite effectively.

To be sure, much late life hearing loss is inherited. I had to shout to hold a conversation with my grandfather. Many of the men on my mother’s side of the family were hard of hearing. Even so, had we been enlightened enough to insist on ear protection for me, my deafness might not be as severe as it is. It just wasn’t an issue in that day. The thing is, young ears are easily damaged. That damage does not heal like a cut or bruise. It’s cumulative.

The tide is turning. The level and quality of public awareness is increasing as we speak. Over the counter hearing aids are practically a reality. This addresses the prohibitive expense of a quality digital haring aid. Even with the development of technology the most effective tool is public awareness and insistence on a quieter public experience. Restaurants, theaters and public areas will respond to public input. The theater promoting “Sound that you can feel” must be avoided or provide ear protection. Loudness is not a prerequisite to happiness.

Finally it’s an individual responsibility. Make your voice heard. You must vote! If we stop supporting loud venues they will disappear or become quieter.

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