With increasing concern regarding the welfare of people’s hearing and of the damage music at clubs, gigs and festivals can cause your ears, Impact talked to Emma Harrison from the RNID to find out more about the issue and what the RNID are doing to prevent it.
Q: Can you tell me a little about the organisation and what you do in it?
RNID is the biggest charity for people who are deaf or hard of hearing and we encourage all people to value their hearing. I am the director of External Affairs and I look after our campaigning work. We are here at Summer Sundae today to talk to people about how to protect their hearing to make sure they don’t experience noise induced hearing loss or tinnitus (that weird ringing in your ear that a lot of people get) as result of listening to loud music.
Q: Yeah the first sign I got was when I was going to many gigs and they do not provide any ear protection.
Legally, all clubs and bars have to do is to give earplugs to people who work at the bar, so for the punters it is up to you to look after your own ears. We did some research last year and found that 90% of people that went to loud pubs, clubs and gigs more than twice a week actually experience tinnitus after a night out. That is the first sign of damage.
Q: Is there any obligation from clubs to give them out.
No, there is no regulation protecting people at gigs, only workers.
Q: So have you been campaigning for that sort of thing?
We talk a lot to the industry, and there are some clubs, such as the Ministry of Sound, that look after their punters by selling earplugs and giving advice in the foyer, and some smaller clubs do to. They do what they can but the government do not want to regulate in this area, as there is too much red tape, so many young people are getting signs of hearing loss. In 20 years, time there is going to be a large number of people with a hearing loss because of listening to loud music.
Q: I go to quite a lot of gigs and I have started to worry, some clubs I have gone to give out free earplugs but its limited in terms of other venues.
One thing about earplugs is that they are not cheap. We ask for donations here, about £1. That is not bad but if you are a club or venue, you could be looking at handing out 3000 a week and that’s going to cost a lot of money. If the government want to regulate it then they will start to cost a lot of money. That is why we come here to talk to people to bring their own.
Q: I do not think people realise what they are doing to themselves, and don’t understand that tinnitus exists.
One of the things with loud music is that it can hurt your ears. When you go to a gig you will listen to sounds of around 100-110 decibels and that like standing next to a digger or chainsaw for 2 hours. That kind of exposure can have a serious impact on your hearing. People are not aware about it, and they do not realise you can do things to protect your hearing. So one easy thing to do is once an hour, for 10 minutes, goes somewhere and relax, chill out away from the noise. Obviously the best thing to do is use reusable earplugs and you can get really good quality ones for about £14. The other thing is don’t increase your MP3 player everywhere – the big thing about noise is that exposure over time can all build up, so if you like going to gigs resist the temptation of putting your MP3 player up every day.
Q: We are bombarded by the ipod now and we have loud cinemas, which can be an issue.
We have had loads of complaints from people about cinema, and how loud they are, and these are from people who are hard of hearing. The world has got a bit louder – there are loads of cars, planes, busses and there is so much noise [pollution] so you are tempted to turn up your mp3 player, and you don’t know how loud it is as you don’t have a decibel meter, or a warning sign that says you are listening to loud. Therefore, if you can take your headphones out and you can hear the music, it is too loud. Always think, instead of turning it up one notch, turn it down one. Or listen to it using noise cancelling headphones or sound isolating ones which means you won’t have to increase the sound up every time.
Q: So apart from coming to festivals where else do you go?
We go to a lot of Student Unions, support Silent Arena, who do silent discos, and we do club nights. Our campaign supporters also put their own gigs on for us. What we try to do is to get other people to spread the message for us so that it is coming from friends instead of a group of people.
Q: Do you work inside and outside the UK?
We work throughout the country and work with partners in the Netherlands and Spain and other countries to get them to campaign for similar issues across Europe. We have a facebook group and a website http://www.dontlosethemusic.com/home/ which has all our information on it.
Q: How long has this organisation been around?
Someone who had lost their hearing and needed extra support set it up nearly 100 years ago but over the years, things have changed. There are not as many people who are born profoundly deaf that need to use British Sign Language. The vast majority of people have age related hearing loss or noise induced hearing loss. We get many service personnel from Afghanistan and Iraq who have damaged their hearing on active service, so we have looked at how we can improve that.
Q: Can you explain what tinnitus is?
People experience it in different ways, but its normally a buzzing sound, or a whistling in your ears. Some people get it on and off, others get it 24/7. What happens is that the hair cells in your ear have broken and they do not grow back, so the sound waves do not go in the normal way so you hear whistling, voices or tones. You have done the damage and unfortunately, there is no cure. There are ways of coping with it – trying to relax is the best thing because if you are stressed tinnitus gets worse and it can cause depression in many people. Imagine you have this hissing noise, but that is all you hear all the time. It can get annoying so looking at things like tinnitus pyramids and listening to CD’s that emit sounds which help you tune out your tinnitus can help.
Q: I am looking at this book and there are people listening to calming music and this electronic device?
It distracts them and helps you tune out the tinnitus, so many people say that the white noise you hear from the TV helps or just one pitch helps, but everyone is different and people get used to it in different ways. Moreover, it can be distressing if you do not know how to cope with it, but we try to give people tips, and we have a forum where people can share ideas. Massage really works, acupuncture is good way of dealing with it, there is no clinical proof of this but we know that people feel better.
Q: Do you think that it can have a placebo effect?
Exactly, it is all about taking our mind off it. If massage helps you and it distracts you from the tinnitus then that is great. However, we do think this is an area where more research needs to be done. 0.2% of all medical research funding goes to hearing loss and ear damage, even though in the armed forces more people come back with hearing loss than any other disability, because so many people are getting shot at and bombs going off. 10% of armed forces come back with hearing loss. We think the government should be looking to find a cure and treatments as well.
Q: How has the charity changed over the last ten years and where do you see it going in the future?
Over the last ten years, we have launched the Don’t Lose the Music campaign to talk to younger people. It always take a long time for campaigns, especially public heath campaigns, to get going, but now we get invited to so many festivals . Next week we are going to V, it is going to be mad but great. Going forward, we want to get people to value their hearing. If you asked, someone if they would rather go deaf or blind most people would say they would rather go deaf. If you think about it naturally, people think it would be much worse to lose your sight but when you lose your hearing you realise how much your hearing gives you. Me and you doing this chat right now – if you couldn’t hear very well it would be a very long drawn out process, one of us would get bored or annoyed and people with hearing loss are more likely to get depressed. We think prevention is better than cure through such things as using earplugs, but we are also looking at a cure. We are hoping to make a medical breakthrough and cure some forms of deafness in the next 10 years.
Q: How else do you reach kids, do you go to schools?
We have outreach officers and community information officers and we go into schools. We are thinking of doing school packs and information, about how the ear works because it is complicated, and you have loads of diagrams, but to get people thinking without scaring them is tough
Q: What people in the medical profession can help if you think you have a problem?
First thing you have to do is go to a GP. They will refer you to an audiologist, or Ear Nose and Throat expert, who will do some tests to see if you have damaged your ears. The problem with that is that it can be quite scary because people associate it with serious illnesses and we would like to see audiology specialists moved into the community, like an opticians or in a GP’s surgery. One of the campaigns we have, called Hearing Matters, is calling for the introduction of a hearing screening programme for everyone over 60 so that they get a check automatically. It takes people about 15 years to take action when they start to get hearing loss and the quicker you do it the easier it is to deal with it. We also have a free hearing check on our website at www.rnid.org.uk/check
Q: Finally, could you summarise how people can protect themselves from hearing loss?
If you ever experience pain whilst listening to music that means you need to walk out of that gig right away as it means you have damaged your ears. Those fuzzy, whistling sounds in your ears are tinnitus. You are actually doing harm to your ears. Best thing you can do is stay away from the speakers, once an hour take a break and move away from the main stage at a festival, and give your ears ten minutes rest. However, the best thing is to buy earplugs, wear them, and really enjoy the music.
If you would like to find out more about Tinnitus and what the RNID are doing to prevent it, go to www.dontlosethemusic.com