A vet committed suicide after suffering from tinnitus. Will people start caring about their hearing health now?

An open letter to anyone who cares to listen.

On March 21, 2021, the NYTimes reported that Kent Taylor, a veteran and founder of the Texas Roadhouse restaurant chain, took his own life: 

“After a battle with post-Covid-related symptoms, including severe tinnitus, Kent Taylor took his own life this week,” the statement [from his family] said.
Mr. Taylor fought the condition, but “the suffering that greatly intensified in recent days became unbearable,” the statement said. It added that Mr. Taylor had recently committed to funding “a clinical study to help members of the military who also suffer with tinnitus,” which causes ringing and other noises in the ear.

Here is a reader comment on the story:

Having lived with constant, severe tinnitus for years I can understand why someone could be tempted to take his own life, though I never have been.

And another:

Tinnitus is beyond my ability to describe to a non afflicted person. My Sister has suffered decades from it as a result of bystander exposure to a tractor tire explosion at a equestrian event. I’ve had it for years as a result of age and genetics. It can be at times deafening from sound between your ears for which there is no OFF switch. I really understand how it can drive a person to any lengths just for cerebral silence.

Tinnitus, a ringing in the ears associated with hearing loss, affects between 15-20% of the population. 

Noise-induced hearing loss is no joke, and it’s permanent. The facts are undeniable. Today’s youth are exposing themselves to unsafe levels of noise, putting them at risk of hearing loss. And they don’t even realize that they’re damaging their hearing. 

If you don’t take steps to protect your hearing, which means avoiding sounds at high volumes  and wearing proper protection when noise is unavoidable, you are setting yourself up for all sorts of problems in the future. 

From the CDC:

  • As hearing loss worsens, hearing and understanding others becomes increasingly difficult, which can lead to isolation.
  • Hearing loss is associated with cognitive (mental) decline and heart problems, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
  • Hearing loss is also strongly associated with depression.
  • Hearing loss can lead to loss of enjoyment, when all the sounds we want to hear (e.g., music, voice of loved one) become muted and lack quality.
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus), which often occurs along with hearing loss, can disrupt sleep and concentration and is associated with both depression and anxiety.

I see too many people my age causing themselves hearing damage. They go to concerts, clubs, and play music at unsafe levels through headphones. They’ll bump up the volume to listen in loud environments, like the subway or a crowded street. They use noisy appliances without earplugs. These are bad practices. 

“It’s not even that loud,” they say. But whether or not you lose your hearing is not a matter of whether you perceive the sound as loud. It’s a matter of the sound intensity, an unsafe level of which may not even sound loud to you. From ASHA:

Don't be fooled by thinking your ears are “tough” or that you can “tune it out”! Noise-induced hearing loss is usually slow and painless. But, it is permanent. The hair cells and hearing nerve cannot be fixed. If loud sounds don't bother you, you may already have some hearing damage.

So how loud is too loud? Check out this chart:

(Here’s an infographic from the CDC on hearing loss. And here’s more info. )

For those who use iPhones as audio-players, you can see your decibels by going into your health app:

Here’s what mine looked like:

The iPhone will also let you set volume limits so you can protect your hearing going forward.

Asking someone to turn the music down one notch can make a huge difference to your hearing safety, because the decibel scale is logarithmic:

Sounds over 85 dBa can damage your hearing faster. The safe listening time is cut in half for every 3-dB rise in noise levels over 85 dBA. For example, you can listen to sounds at 85 dBA for up to 8 hours. If the sound goes up to 88 dBA, it is safe to listen to those same sounds for 4 hours. And if the sound goes up to 91 dBA, your safe listening time is down to 2 hours.

Bring it up to 100 dBa, and you can only listen for 15 minutes until damage occurs.

Some people begin to notice they are losing their hearing. They have to turn on video subtitles. They can’t make out what people are saying over FaceTime or in restaurants. But because they can hear other sounds just fine, they assume nothing is wrong. 

Here are some symptoms of hearing loss: 

  • Speech and other sounds seem muffled
  • Difficulty understanding conversations when you are in a noisy place, such as a restaurant
  • Difficulty understanding speech over the phone
  • Trouble distinguishing speech consonants (e.g., difficulty distinguishing the difference between s and f,  between p and t, or between sh and th in speech)
  • Asking  others to speak more slowly and clearly
  • Asking someone to speak more loudly or repeat what they said
  • Turning up the volume of the television or radio
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Hypersensitivity to certain sounds (certain sounds are very bothersome or create pain)

There is no conclusion to this piece. I just wish people took their hearing health more seriously. May Kent Taylor’s memory be a warning. 

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