Doctor: What I didn’t know until I got tinnitus

Photo credit: Ivan Samkov

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

CNN published a piece last month by Susannah Hills, a pediatric airway surgeon and vice chair of the Department of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. It is titled “Doctor: What I didn’t know until I got skin cancer.” Hills writes about her own experience ignoring a scaly patch of skin on her scalp despite a strong family history of skin cancers, until she finally saw a dermatologist and had her skin cancer diagnosed.

Her story inspired me to write this blog post, and I have also reached out to CNN about writing a similar piece about auditory disorders. Despite being a board-certified internist, I had no idea that a one-time exposure to loud noise could lead to permanent tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hyperacusis (a sensitivity to loud noise that doesn’t bother others). I always tried to lead a healthy lifestyle, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, getting daily exercise and avoiding the sun, but I was not aware of the dangers of noise exposure. In my defense — albeit not necessarily a good excuse — I did only have one hour of lecture about the auditory system in medical school.

My own experience and my own auditory disabilities are what inspired me to develop a second career as a noise activist, trying to make the world a quieter place. One of my priorities is educating the public about the dangers of noise, whether wanted noise, such as a rock concert, or unwanted noise, such as a too-noisy restaurant or loud vehicle exhaust pipe. Avoiding noise-induced auditory disorders is easy and inexpensive. Avoid loud noise, turn down the volume, leave the noisy environment, insert earplugs or put on earmuff hearing protection.

Because if it sounds loud, it’s too loud and your auditory health is at risk.

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