Listen up, kids: Don't take your hearing for granted

Jo Davies says she's noticed her hearing is not what it used to be. And while she'd like to blame technology, the fault, she says, 'lies primarily with my dipstick teenage self.'

Jo Davies says the tinnitus she now lives with was completely avoidable

Jo Davies says at 50, she's starting to experience hearing loss — something she says is the result of blasting music too loud in her youth. (Kzenon/Shutterstock)

When my twins were toddlers, their daycare was affiliated with an entity known as Deaf Centre Manitoba. All the children were taught to use American Sign Language, whether or not they were hearing impaired. 

It was great, because knowing sign language allowed my little boys to communicate with far less frustration on a daily basis. It opened up their world, and it made me smile to see them sign for things like "milk" and "change diaper."

It also made me realize just how fortunate they were to have their hearing. 

Over the years, I've struggled with my own hearing more and more.

As I've gotten older, I've realized that I actually do have an impairment, one that's become especially noticeable in the past few years.

Jo Davies says years spent blasting music through the headphones of her Walkman have taken their toll on her hearing. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

I feel like my three sons are mumbling all the time, yet when I say as much to them, they tell me that I "must be deaf." Not politically correct, but certainly to the point: I can't hear as well as I could. 

Looking back, I'd like to blame most of it on technology. I'd like to, but I can't. The blame lies primarily with my dipstick teenage self.

When I was in junior high school, Sony Walkmans were all the rage. Compared to today's tech, they were hideously bulky and awkward. The headphone cords were always coming unplugged, the cassette tapes we played would get stuck or (horrors!) eaten.

Worst of all was the number of batteries we went through to keep the things playing. It probably would have been cheaper to fly to a concert. 

Speaking of concerts: they certainly didn't help my hearing, either. I distinctly remember going to a variety of shows (Inxs, Iron Maiden, ZZ Top) and wincing at the volume of the music.

School dances were the same, as were the university and wedding socials I attended when I got older.

The louder, the better, was the way of thinking, and absolutely no one worried about wearing any sort of hearing protection. The fact that you couldn't hear yourself (or anyone else) for hours afterward was beside the point.

'Fabulous music, best experienced at high volume'

Still, if I had to pick what really damaged my hearing the most, I'd have to pin it on my Walkman.

To say that I was in love with mine is to say the very least. In the early '80s, this was cutting-edge stuff. It gave you the freedom to listen to what you liked without having to hang around a radio or ride in a car. 

In the days of Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club, what angsty teen didn't want to be able to carry around their very own soundtrack to the painful reality of their adolescent existence? From the Rolling Stones' Wild Horses to Prince's Purple Rain, it was fabulous music, best experienced at high volume.

Which brings me to my current predicament. 

All of this is especially frustrating because I've done this to myself. This damage was completely avoidable and is now completely irreversible.- Jo Davies

For years now I've had what's commonly referred to as tinnitus. It's a perception of noise or ringing in the ears that, for me, becomes more noticeable depending on how tired I am or how quiet or loud my surroundings are.

Not a disease in and of itself, it's a symptom of a number of possible underlying causes, including disease and noise-induced hearing loss. It's fairly common, with 10 to 15 per cent of the population suffering from some form of it.

For me, I'm assuming it's due to all those sessions walking up and down the main drag in my hometown with tunes blasting on my headphones. Silly me. 

At 50, I'm starting to have to make accommodations for my hearing loss.

My co-workers know to pick quieter restaurants if we treat ourselves to a meal out on payday — otherwise I have a hard time following their conversation. When my mom and I go out for coffee, our choice of venue is dictated by the loudness of the "background" music playing. Going to the movies involves plugging my ears whenever the volume gets uncomfortable.

A 10-month-old wears protective headphones as she sits on the grass with her parents at a 2017 music festival. Jo Davies says she encourages her kids to take steps to protect their hearing, using her own experience as a cautionary tale. (Matt Weigand/The Ann Arbor News/The Associated Press)

All of this is especially frustrating because I've done this to myself. This damage was completely avoidable and is now completely irreversible.

Eventually I suppose I'll have to get hearing aids, but it's certainly not something to which I'm looking forward. Hopefully I do it before my kids strangle me for asking them to repeat themselves, rather than after. 

What scares me now is watching my sons play video games and listen to music at top volume, generally repeating every mistake I made when I was their age.

It's not for lack of me trying to save them from themselves. I'm always nagging at them to "turn it down," using my own experience as a cautionary tale.

Usually they nod and smile and turn it down for a little while until the volume creeps up again. 

It's almost like my warnings are falling on deaf ears.     

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Jo Davies

Freelance contributor

Jo Davies is a freelance writer who enjoys rocking the boat on the regular. She is working on a collection of short stories about dating in middle-age, a topic with which she is intimately acquainted.