DEAR ABBY: As an otologist (ear physician), I am delighted to see the public's attention drawn to the problem of hearing loss, especially noise-induced hearing loss, which is entirely preventable. However, Nanette Fabray MacDougall's recent letter and your response perpetuated a popular myth: Brief exposure to loud sound is damaging to people's hearing.
Risk to hearing is based not only on how loud the sound is, but also on HOW LONG you're exposed. The 90-decibel figure she cited is the limit set by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration based on the assumption of a workplace exposure that lasts eight hours a day, five days a week, 52 weeks a year, for 40 years.
Exposure to rock concerts and dance clubs is certainly hazardous to the musicians and other employees who work in that environment day in and day out -- and frequent exposure would be bad for anyone who has a noisy job or hobby -- but for the rest of us, occasional exposure is harmless.
Movie theaters are unlikely to be hazardous to hearing because the sound levels are usually high for only short periods. For adults who have quiet jobs (if you can converse at arm's length without shouting, you have a quiet job), the main preventable causes of hearing loss are head injury (wear seat belts in cars, wear helmets on bicycles) and explosive noise (wear earplugs or earmuffs when firing guns and stay away from firecrackers). People with noisy jobs should insist that their employers have sound-level measurements made, and enroll them in hearing conservation programs if the exposures are hazardous.
Let's keep things in perspective. Remember that it's the dose that makes the "poison." -- ROBERT DOBIE, M.D., WASHINGTON, D.C.
DEAR DR. DOBIE: Thank you for setting me straight. I'm sure my readers will find your letter as enlightening as I did. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: Our thanks to Nanette Fabray MacDougall, but she didn't go far enough. It's not only the music in movies and TV shows that's too loud, it is also the sound effects, i.e., planes, helicopters, sirens, construction sounds, street noise, raging storms, etc., that cover the dialogue.
Perhaps if everyone who is inconvenienced would write to the companies and studios who produce these shows and complain, they would eventually get the message. -- TIRED OF THE NOISE
DEAR TIRED: It appears that some production companies are already getting the message. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: I have contacted TV programmers about lowering the level of the music and sound effects on their shows. Lifetime Television said they would lower the audio track on future productions of "Beyond Chance." Discovery Channel said they would pass along my complaint to program management and executives.
Abby, please urge your readers to let their voices be heard loud and clear -- by contacting TV stations and program producers. Some of them seem to be listening. -- ADAM McKEEHAN, MASON, OHIO
DEAR ADAM: That's refreshing. Readers, it's up to you. Whether it's by e-mail or snail mail, let your voices be heard.