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Hearing Loss Touches A Younger Generation

With Rise in Noise, More Seeking Help

By Susan Levine
Washington Post Staff Writer
Excerpts from Saturday, January 30, 1999; Page A01

Last month, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders gathered 100 representatives of medical, research, volunteer and union organizations to talk about noise-induced hearing loss -- how it occurs and how it can be prevented. The institute plans to launch a public awareness campaign on the issue in the spring.

Prevention and education were an ongoing effort at the Environmental Protection Agency until its Office of Noise Abatement was eliminated in 1982. That's about the time a push to require decibel labels on lawn equipment gave way to voluntary notices, which were "a miserable failure," in Kenneth Feith's view, and explain why instructions on lawn mowers or leaf blowers virtually never advise hearing protection.

"I think we're going to see a population suffering from hearing loss that will impair learning, impair our ability to carry out tasks," said Feith, an EPA senior scientist and policy adviser who headed the Office of Noise Abatement.

Musicians may be getting the message faster than others, thanks to groups such as
Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers. The 10-year-old nonprofit California organization was founded by Kathy Peck, 39, whose bass career ended the morning after her band opened for Duran Duran. "I had ringing in my ears that lasted three days. It felt like a bongo drum was in my head." She sustained substantial irreversible damage.

Early on, HEAR gained visibility when Pete Townshend of the Who wrote it a $10,000 check and publicly acknowledged his own hearing loss. It soon will begin examining audiograms, demographic data and questionnaires from thousands of patients seen at HEAR's clinic in San Francisco. Most have been in their twenties and thirties.


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