Can You Hear Me Now?
When Dr. Chandrasekhar took her preteen daughter to see Taylor Swift’s 1989 concert in July 2015, the duo received light-up wristbands along with everyone else at the show. As the music pulsed, so too did the bracelets, which changed color and design with each song. But Dr. Chandrasekhar thought Swift could have distributed something better to her audience.
Explore This IssueOctober 2019
“She could have given out earplugs that cost about twenty cents a pair,” she said. “If concert venues gave away earplugs, the chances are overwhelming that people would use them. If you’re at a concert or a club, you can bring foam earplugs along in your pocket. By wearing them, you immediately cut down about 25 decibels of noise.”
Dr. Chandrasekhar, an avid music fan, said she has seen earplugs sold in other concert venues. “But if you’re a kid in college without a lot of money, you could go get a beer instead. Why would you buy earplugs?”
She counsels her patients about the importance of ear protection at live venues, in clubs, and while listening to recorded music individually through earbuds or headphones while at home, studying, or relaxing. Earplugs help prevent potential hearing loss, which may not be apparent until years or decades later.
“It’s easy to be a little proactive,” she said. “Stick a pair of earplugs or tissue in your pocket” before going out to a concert or club. “You don’t want to put in little bits of tissue paper in your ears, but you can wad up tissue and stick it in your ear if that’s all you have. Being cognizant of the potential damage makes even the cheapest earplugs helpful,” she said.
Sharing her love of music is one way that Dr. Chandrasekhar counsels her teen patients about how to prevent hearing loss from loud music exposure. “I think we have an obligation as otolaryngologists to be another voice that understands their desire to have fun and to listen to music, but also notes, ‘can you do that without putting your future at risk,’” said Dr. Chandrasekhar.
What’s New, Now
There are several famous musicians who have discussed their hearing loss and tinnitus from years of performing and creating live music, including giants such as Pete Townsend of The Who. But many teens today don’t recognize the names, said Dr. Chandrasekhar. “That used to be effective 10 to 15 years ago, but now, nobody young knows who Pete Townsend is,” she added. Citing younger musicians, such as Coldplay’s Chris Martin, or Bradley Cooper’s character from the film A Star Is Born, who have tinnitus, may better resonate with teens. “It’s important to convey that you value the things they value, and within that construct, how you can help them make choices that keep them as healthy as possible,” she said.
Doing so helps physicians better connect with their patients. “I try to stay up to date with current music and current topics because it’s helpful to be knowledgeable about what they are into, and it really disarms them in a visit,” said Dr. Carter. “If I had a three-year-old patient, I ask who their favorite Sesame Street character is. With a teen, I know about what artists, like Drake, are currently touring.”
Ultimately, otolaryngologists who are committed to reaching their teen patients are more likely to make a positive impact that lasts. “The hard part is to remember to do it,” said Dr. Young. “We are all so busy, and it’s usually not why the patients are there. We don’t usually see ourselves in the primary care business. You have to have really changed your mindset, and it has to be very purposeful.”