Dangerous Noise and “Doctors Hurt You”

I have a friend with life-altering hyperacusis, a hearing problem where ordinary sounds can cause pain. It started after she worked in a noisy workplace for three years.

“People are always told about things they should do for good health: eat right, exercise, wear sunscreen, don’t smoke,” said my friend. “But they are almost never warned about loud noise, and if they are, it’s only about hearing loss far off in the future.” Her healthcare philosophy is doctors hurt you, which she finds so self-evident that she can barely explain why she believes it.

Her husband has hyperacusis, too, even worse than hers. His came from too many rock concerts. He sought medical treatment for a disorder that even Google has barely heard of, and now takes a staggering amount of pain medicine. His philosophy, at least historically, has been doctors help you. She has done her best to keep him away from doctors, but there is no doubt that, through a combination of bad advice and bad treatment, doctors have made his health much worse. (The pain medicines do reduce pain — but much of his pain was caused by doctors.) Judging by his and her experience, doctors hurt you is more accurate.

I am writing this in the loudest Starbucks I have ever been in, in New York City. (I have been in hundreds of Starbucks.) Three employees have told me they cannot control the volume of the music. Even with my Bose noise-cancelling headphones, it is too loud. I must find somewhere else. A friend who used to work at Starbucks disputes their claim that they cannot control the volume. She says the content of the music is set by corporate but the volume is controllable at individual stores. A customer at the loud Starbucks told me he thought the employees made the music so loud to drive customers away.

Exhibit 1 in the argument that doctors hurt you is tonsillectomies, probably the most common operation ever. Your tonsils are part of your immune system — removing them makes as much sense as removing part of your brain. Tonsillectomies remained common long after it was clear that tonsils were part of the immune system. Perhaps doctors didn’t understand high school biology? Or they didn’t care? Either answer suggests that doctors should be avoided.



19 Replies to “Dangerous Noise and “Doctors Hurt You””

  1. The idea that nobody warns you about the health risk of loud noise seems pretty silly to me. Indeed, why would you need warning? If you shrink away from it, what more do you need to know?

  2. The damage that can be done by over exposure to loud sounds has long been known! That is why the guys guiding planes on the ground at airports wear noise blocking ear phones. Too many were losing their hearing.
    For years, ENT’s have also been warning of the damage to the inner ear from loud music, including the popular ear buds. Unfortunately the warnings have fallen on deaf ears (pun intended).

  3. What’s odd to me is that I know a fair number of people who are in their 40s and 50s and who have attended lots of loud rock concerts over the years, and continue to do so. I have not noticed any hearing loss in them.

    I’m also mystified by stories such as this one:


    The festival’s loudest performance came during KISS — the band apparently hit a high of 136 dB before an NCC official insisted that the sound engineer turn it down.

    That performance by KISS is rumored to be one of the loudest, ever. I wonder how the concert-goers (especially the ones right near the stage) escaped serious, permanent damage to their hearing.

  4. I often wonder how much damage is done every day to the hearing of the (usually immigrant) lawn care workers in my (and many US neighborhoods) who use large very noisy mowers and leaf blowers every day without any noticeable ear protection. If I find the noise level a problem and I am inside my house how much is it affecting them?

  5. What percentage of 1960’s era pediatric surgeons could even bear the emotional and ethical burden of knowing that they had irreparably damaged the immune systems of thousands of children? (Not to mention the lawsuits.)

    The belief in the validity of such surgeries must remain intact until those doctors have passed away.

  6. Al, as the son of a surgeon,I can tell you that surgeons simply don’t believe studies associating their livelihood with bad outcomes.

  7. Hypotheses: the employees at the very loud Starbucks had a boss who insisted on the high volume music or they liked the loud music themselves. If you care that much, it would be interesting to contact higher level management.

  8. I don’t know how bouncers and bartenders at clubs don’t become deaf in a week. I can barely stand one night out at those places and my ears are ringing for days! Also, concert venues are some of the worst offenders. The kids standing in front of the speakers have no clue what they’re doing to their ears.

  9. This is an excursus, but I had Bose noise-canceling headphones for years and then I tried simple firearm surpressing earmuffs. The Peltor Optime 105 Earmuff is vastly better at reducing noise and I can wear them all day while I’m working at my job as a programmer. I switched to them after reading Peopleware which cited some study that found that creative leaps in programming are frequently missed if you listen to music while programming.

  10. Another thanks to Ross for the tip.

    I offer two recent and relevant stories.

    Recently my wife and I flew to California on a Saturday, leaving at 11:50 AM. Apparently most Midwestern vacationers start drinking before a noon flight and continue drinking during the flight. The volume in the plane rose higher and higher as the drunks yelled at each other and four babies cried. I finally tore pieces of paper napkin and stuffed the wads in my ears.

    The other story happened at my physician’s office several weeks ago. I had gone in for a yearly physical. They do the paperwork thing and then have you wait outside the doctor’s office. Unfortunately for me, a 60 inch TV screen mounted above the admissions window blared the sound to some reality TV show about building gignormous back yard decks. The sound drove me further and further away, until I was standing in the hall and peeking around the corner as I waited for the nurse come retrieve me.

    It’s not that I dislike loud music. My favorite band for years was Sonic Youth.

  11. Doctors and dentists used to have quiet waiting rooms, where you could sit and read a book. No more. Every waiting room now seems to have a large, loud TV mounted on the wall. I wonder if the majority of patients think that this is a good thing.

  12. “Exhibit 1 in the argument that doctors hurt you is tonsillectomies, probably the most common operation ever.”

    How about circumcision? I’m talking about routine infant circumcision (currently performed mostly on unconsenting newborn males in the US). Is that not far more common than tonsillectomy? Does it not cause far greater harm?

    Seth: Yes, it is far more common. “Does it not cause far greater harm?” That’s not clear at all. Why do you think this?

  13. I have for a long time been sensitive to loud sound. In the 80’s I walked out of a Billy Idol concert because it was killing my ears. I often ask coffee shops and restaurants to reduce the volume, and although they don’t like it and friends are sometimes embarrassed I do not feel guilty at all.
    One friend wore cotton in his ears for many years and I have taken up the practice. He is a musician and so am I, so to reduce stress and keep good pitch, I took up his practice. Be prepared for people asking you if there is something is wrong with your ears. Take care of yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Think outside the box!

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