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February 8th, 2010
Run with Moe: Don't run out of hearing

Run with Moe: A column
San Marcos Runners Club

I read a very interesting article in Club Running this week. Club Running is the magazine subscription made available to club members of the Road Runners Club of American (RRCA), to which members of the San Marcos Runners Club belong.

It has many tips on running and health for safe running. The article that caught my attention is one that many runners probably never even think about.

The danger is hearing loss. You might ask how the sport of running causes hearing loss. It isn’t the running it’s the headphones and MP3 players that are glued inside the ear to listen to the runner’s latest music and motivational songs to accompany them on training runs.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has a campaign called, “America Tuned In Today . . .  But Tuned Out tomorrow.” While runners practice good health habits, they do not consider all aspects of good health, such as hearing loss. Sound is measured in decibels (db), with a level of 85 db considered a safe level.

MP3 players can reach 120 db. A humming refrigerator is 45 db, a normal conversation is 60 db and heavy traffic is 85 db. After that, it gets dangerous. A symptom termed “noise induced hearing loss” (NIHL) may occur. Motorcycles, fireworks and small arms fire range in the level of 120 db to 150 db.

Hearing loss has three points that need to be avoided when it comes to listening to sounds.  Listening to things that are “too loud,” “too close” and “too long” may be a cause of NIHL.  The association recommends three rules that a runners wearing hearing devices.

First, if you can’t hear the person next to you when he is talking, then the volume is set too high. Second, if the person next to you can hear the music through your headphones the volume is set too high. Three, don’t listen at high volume (85 db or more) for more than one hour a day. A study in Europe found that listening to sounds at high volumes for more than an hour a day weekly will likely result in permanent hearing loss.

To understand how this works, the makeup of the inner ear has very sensitive structures that can be damaged. These sensitive structures are called “hair cells,” which are small sensory cells that convert sound energy into electrical signals that travel to the brain.

Once damaged, our hair cells cannot grow back and hearing loss is permanent. How many times have you attempted to talk to a person with the music on, only to have them stop, pull the earplugs out and say, “What did you say?”

Have you ever been to a music concert and later that evening after you get home there is a ringing in your ears for several hours? Do you find yourself paying closer attention to a person talking to you to make sure you understand what they are saying? Are there certain pitches – either high or low – that you discover that you do not hear as well? These are all symptoms of hearing loss.

While the possibility of permanent hearing loss is one problem from wearing a sound system, a more immediate peril is not hearing noise that alerts you to danger, such as a car approaching or a car horn honking. Recommendations are to turn down the sound of the music to a safe level, use earplugs when listening to a loud concert, and think about how loud the exhaust on your motorcycle is, and maybe it isn’t cool to be on a quiet bike, but a loud bike will soon become quiet to you in time.

Enjoy the music when you run. Just make sure that as the years go by, you can still hear the music while you run and still hear your friends discuss the race or run afterwards. Keep practicing a healthy lifestyle, but include the ears as well as the heart and lungs and legs in your training.

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