Acoustic assault leaves tinnitus

Photo credit: MondoPhoto licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Jan L. Mayes, MSc, Audiologist, Member, The Quiet Coalition

The Canadian national media are paying attention to tinnitus reported by some Ottawa residents after being exposed to weeks of noisy truck honking Freedom Convoy protests. The Globe & Mail published an opinion on the impact of the acoustic assault written by Joel Roberts, a former prime-time talk show host on KABC Radio, Los Angeles. Roberts rightly points out that after the noise is gone, the torment of tinnitus can remain.

Not surprisingly, affected residents say the tinnitus sounds like “phantom horns.” They fear its long term effects. They fear protest noise will return in future.

In Ottawa, enforcement came late and required invoking an Emergency Measures Act to deal with this non-peaceful protest. Enforcement eventually included noise fines, tickets, impounded vehicles, and arrests. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson describes a “multimillion-dollar bill that we’re going to be saddled with because of the irresponsibility and the illegal activities of a bunch of truckers and others who showed little regard for our community and its people.” This financial bill doesn’t consider potential long term social, economic, and healthcare costs of individuals left with tinnitus.

I hope the media continue to draw attention to the immediate or early tinnitus risk from acoustic assaults. There are tinnitus management resources available, including listening to soothing sounds that might help with recovery. But the media message should also include that noise is entirely preventable, and these cases could be avoided.

If honking protests continue, Joel Roberts predicts there will be “the agony of innocents” and the horn-happy trucker “legacy, at its core, will be suffering.” Without government action plans to prevent future acoustic assaults on public health-including federal oversight as needed–-I fear his prediction will come true.

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