A Question Of Health

Is my hearing at risk? Will I pass on disease?
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Indy Lifestyle Online


Q. My friends say I have become an iPod addict. I have recently noticed a soft humming sound in my ears, even when the earphones are out. Is it possible that I am damaging my ears by listening to music too much, or too loud?

A. Human ears are pretty resilient, but there is a limit to the amount of noise they can tolerate. The intensity of noise is measured in decibels (dB). You are at risk of damaging your hearing if you are exposed to 90dB for eight hours a day over five years. The damage will occur four times as fast with 97dB. An iPod at full volume is capable of producing more than 100dB. The humming sound that you hear in your ears may be tinnitus. There is a real risk of hearing damage and tinnitus if you play your iPod at high volume for long periods of time.


Q. My husband and I are thinking about having children. My brother died some years ago from Duchenne muscular dystrophy. I know there is a chance that I could pass this terrible condition on if I have a son. Can you tell me where I can be tested?

A. Unlike other types of muscular dystrophy that affect both boys and girls, Duchenne only affects boys. It is caused by a fault in a gene that is responsible for keeping muscle fibres strong. Healthy girls can carry the faulty Duchenne gene without having any symptoms. The fact that your brother died from Duchenne is a warning that you may be a carrier of the gene. If you were to have a boy, there is a real risk that he could have muscular dystrophy like your brother. A geneticist will be able to explain what tests you can have, and the risks you face. Ask your GP to refer you to a genetics centre now. Don't wait until you are pregnant.


Q. Ever since I started using a BlackBerry portable phone, I have had pains in my thumbs. Is this a complication of using a Blackberry too much?

A. "Blackberry thumb" has recently been recognised as a medical condition caused by overusing tiny keyboards. People who write texts and e-mails on these keyboards tend to use their thumbs to enter all the letters. This puts an unusual strain on the tendons that control the thumb and leads to repetitive strain injury.

Have your say

JB of Norfolk suffered from an itchy scalp for years:

"I tried horrendous chemical treatments from my GP. I was then advised by a dermatologist to take safflower or castor oil pills. It took three months for them to work, but I have not been troubled since."

Send your questions and suggestions to: A Question of Health, 'The Independent', 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020-7005 2182; or e-mail health@independent.co.uk. Dr Kavalier regrets that he is unable to respond personally