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The Most Important Component

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Editor’s Note: Please note this article is not authored by a medical doctor and therefore should not be considered as such. You should consult your doctor before taking any drugs or substances. Dagogo offers no guarantee and/or implications of any kind on the safety and soundnesss of the author’s advice. Proceed at your own risk.

The last time you made your list of “most important components”, what was number one? I’ve seen a lot of ink spilled on the subject. You can make an argument for garbage in equals garbage out. Therefore, the source components are the most important. You can argue that the loudspeaker is the most difficult item to perfect, has more gross distortion than any other component and has to be carefully matched to the room and amps. You can argue that the room is most important (a position I would agree with) since a bad room will destroy a million bucks worth of effort. But very few people mention the ears.

It seems people take their hearing for granted. I know musicians don’t, and would hope that audiophiles would take care of their most important components. But it seems that most people don’t take their hearing as seriously as they do their eyesight. Perhaps the assumption is made that you are predestined to a certain hearing acuity and there’s nothing that can be done to change your fate. That may be true in cases where genetics have worked against someone. Obviously, subjecting your ears to loud percussions (explosions, gun shots, etc…) will damage your hearing. Also, sustained loud noise will permanently damage your hearing. But how often do you consider what you put into your body? There are a variety of foods and medicines that can affect your hearing, some for better, others for the worse.

Grin and Bayer It

You should know if you are taking something that is ototoxic. What is “ototoxicity”? If I were guessing on an IQ test, I’d say an ancient Aztec city. The definition of ototoxicity is any substance that causes damage to the inner ear, specifically the cochlea or auditory nerve and sometimes the vestibulum, by a toxin, most often a medicine. Ototoxicity was discovered in the 1940’s with the invention of Streptomycin, the first antibiotic remedy for tuberculosis (aka, TB). It was discovered that many patients treated with streptomycin had irreversible cochlear and vestibular dysfunction. Given the choice of death and hearing damage, I would’ve taken the hearing damage. We live in a society that is nearly free of these serious, contagious diseases, and TB was one of the most fearsome of them all (and still is in the developing world).

What shocked me is the number of common drugs, indulgences and common environmental hazards that are ototoxic. Prime offenders:

aminoglycoside antibiotics (amikacin, neomycin, streptomycin, etc.)
NSAIDS loop diuretics (lasix, etc..)
macrolide antibiotics (zithromax, biaxin, erythromycin, etc.)
carbon monoxide
carbon disulfide
hydrocodone with acetaminophen
some anti-cancer drugs

There are other agents, though these are the prime offenders.

I’m not offering medical advice and not proposing you go off chemotherapy so you’ll hear your music better. Most doctors will modify treatments if their patients express specific concerns. The point of all this is that we should pay close attention to the effects of what we take into our bodies. There are days when the system sounds better or worse than I’m expecting. Was it something I took? It’s something to consider.

Doom and Gloom

It wouldn’t be a bad idea to cover a few other risk factors. Meningitis, besides killing you and causing brain damage, can leave you deaf. Then there’s scarlet fever, mumps and Ménière’s Disease. And there are more unlikely causes like thyroid issues. Blood flow problems, like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, hypercoagulability, and polycythemia can limit blood flow to the ear. High blood pressure has been linked to increased risk of noised induced hearing loss. Vasculitis, swelling of the blood vessels, linked to rheumatoid arthritisor lupus erythematosus, has been found to cause hearing damage (probably due to less blood flow to the ears). Approximately 40% of diabetic patients have hearing loss (especially in the high frequencies). There is a link between glaucoma and hearing loss. Sickle cell causes hearing loss in approximately 25% of victims. AIDS leads to chronic ear infections and nerve damage. Both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss occur in people with AIDS. AIDS is also associated with tumors in the head and neck that can cause hearing loss.

Chronic adenoidal hypertrophy can cause “mouth breathing” and blockage of the Eustachian tubes with consequent chronic ear disease and hearing loss. Much more insidious is that it can cause sleep apnea, resulting in hypertension, heart disease, and death (ultimately). If a loved one is a chronic snorer and has any sign of sleep apnea, I suggest that you research the topic. It, sleep apnea, can dramatically affect a person’s general health, longevity and quality of life. By the way, before moving on, hearing impairment comprises the largest chronic disability group in the United States according to the Institute on Rehabilitation Issues. (The DecibelMeter app on my iPhone shows 90dB+ when my music is really loud. 80 to 85dB is the general loudness I listen to. I recommend our readers to check the loudness to which they subject themselves to. –Ed.)

Busy Bee

I owe this newfound interest in hearing to an infomercial and the local Super Target. While wasting time one night, I came across an advertisement for a supplement with almost miraculous powers. Doctors (of what I wonder?) claimed to have cured dementia, helped students learn more, etc… I was sucked into the hype for a short while, they told me to send five easy payments, they used a secret recipe, etc… I’m attracted to infomercials like I am to car wrecks, televangelists and other spectacles. I don’t stop long enough to make a purchase, render aid, get brainwashed or sign up, just long enough to take in the spectacle. The infomercial was pushing a “special” version of sublingual B12. (I saw that informercial, too. –Ed.) Though mildly amused, I quickly came to my senses and went to check out what was on eBay. Like most other things I watch, it was quickly displaced by some kind of minutia about vinyl pressings, tubes or cartridge compliance

My wife MUST take me to the store. She considers it quality time. Usually, I am able to make some excuse as to why I can’t go. But other times I put on a brave face and go grocery shopping. While looking for some Tylenol PM, I happened to pass through the vitamin aisle. I remembered the infomercial and looked to see if Target made a house-brand version of the sublingual B12. Behold, for the price of a cup of Starbucks, I too could cure all my ills (except the infomercial said I needed to buy THEIR product—would this much cheaper version produce miracles too?). For the price, and it was actually cheaper than Starbucks, it was a no-brainer. The product is a combination of B vitamins with a mega-dose of B12. What’s really important is the amount of B12 and that it is sublingual.

According to medical studies, some people have a hard time taking in B12. If you have some problem with your digestive system, you might not be getting enough B12. Also, if you are Vegan, you should be taking supplements of B12 (and other vitamins), since the main source for B12 is meat and dairy products. Beyond digestive problems and poor diet, stress and illness can increase the bodies demand for B12. For many, it becomes necessary to supplement their normal intake. Sublingual vitamins are a popular way of getting water soluble vitamins into your blood stream quickly. In some cases, injections are needed.

When B12 deficiency is acute, serious medical complications can occur. Symptoms include: tiredness; decreased mental work capacity; decreased concentration; decreased memory; irritability; depression; sleep disturbances; sensory disturbances due to damage to peripheral nerves caused by demyelination; and irreversible nerve cell death. When the nervous system had become damaged, symptoms may include numbness, tingling of the extremities, disturbed coordination, ataxic gait, and subacute combined degeneration of the spinal cord. B12 deficiency can also cause symptoms of mania and psychosis. Bipolar disorder is associated with pernicious anemia caused by B12 deficiency.

For me, I wanted to try the B12 to see if it would help stay sharp through the day. I’ve been burning the candle at three ends and I get “tired head” after a few hours. “Tired head” is how I describe that fuzzy, groggy and listless feeling you get when you haven’t had decent food or rest. Stress exacerbates the problem for me. I wasn’t aware that B12 deficiency could cause so many problems and permanently damage the nervous system.
The benefits came fast and were easy to notice. The “tired head” partially went away after 5-10 minutes. Taken with a meal and my regular multivitamin, I had a second wind that was similar to waking from a midday nap. What I hadn’t expected was a noticeable improvement in my ability to actively concentrate on music, hear better and enjoy listening sessions. It’s possible that I just need more sleep, or that my diet isn’t good enough, or that I have enough stress. It may be that you might not benefit from B12. We’re all different. What I do know is that the B12 has helped to make my days more productive, less stressful, my sleep more restive and music more enjoyable.

If I try to explain why I hear better, I can offer two possible hypotheses. One is that it is affecting the transmission of nerve impulses from the inner ear to the brain. Secondly, it may be that the B12 helps the brain’s cognitive abilities (I can better decipher those nerve impulses once they arrive inside my brain). It’s like trying to explain why copper sounds different from silver (it doesn’t matter why—the one you prefer is what is important). But it really doesn’t matter. It helps me and may help others.

One question came to mind. Does B12 protect the ears? Most literature indicates that B12 affects the nervous system. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that would suggest that B12 can prevent damage to the ears from trauma (loud noise). If not B12, is there something that can prevent damage to the ears?

Magic Bullets?

Recently, several scientific studies have determined that certain antioxidants can protect hearing and actually help repair minor hearing damage. This means that we can supplement our diet to help protect our hearing (I did say help). That doesn’t mean you can pop a pill and listen to 120dB all day. You can’t make your ears bullet-proof by any means other than ear plugs and/or muffs. Beyond a certain SPL, the ears are going to get damaged. Just think of sound like sunlight. Too much of either will cause damage.
A study done in the Netherlands shows that Folic Acid (B9) gave the test subjects .7dB better hearing sensitivity than the control group. Both the test subjects and the control group started out with the same average hearing acuity. After 3 years, the test group, who received 800 mcg of Folic acid, had better hearing.

In other studies, the combination of vitamins A, C, E and Magnesium was shown to help prevent AND reverse hearing damage. One test involved exposing Guinea Pigs to 120dB of noise for five hours (makes me cringe—poor things). The group that was administered A-C-E-Magnesium had the least amount of hearing damage.

One promising treatment might be lipoic acid (also known as alpha lipoic acid). Studies show that lipoic acid increases the intracellular levels of glutathione, which prevents free radical damage to the cochlea. Studies were done with other various vitamin supplements, and results were very good. Lipoic acid, in combination with certain vitamins, was shown to help reverse noise-induced hearing damage. Also, it can prevent damage from Aminoglycoside antibiotics.

There are no absolute guarantees with supplements. They aren’t foolproof and can’t provide 100% protection. It’s still up to you to take precautions. I always wear ear plugs when mowing and using the vacuum cleaner. Before I started using the ear plugs, I would have “cauliflower ear” after several hours of yard work. With ear plugs, they’re the only part of my body that doesn’t hurt. Also, vacuums can be almost as loud as lawn equipment. Just consider that you will be in an enclosed area when vacuuming (as opposed to your yard), which amplifies the noise, especially in corners and on hard surfaces. Finally, pay attention to your head when listening for long periods. If you start to get a headache, it might be due to hearing fatigue (or bad sound). Without your hearing, all this audio stuff is worthless. Safe listening!

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