Health: Experts sound hi-fi warning

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Christmas gifts of powerful hi-fis and personal stereos could leave proud owners with more than the sound of sweet music, health experts have warned.

Tinnitus Action, which represents nearly five million adults who suffer from constant noises in the head, wants hi-fi equipment to carry tinnitus danger warnings and has sent tapes of tormenting noises to Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, and William Hague, the Tory leader.

Tinnitus results in permanent head sounds, heard by no one but the sufferer, range from hisses to noises like an electric drill, banging metal or high- pitched whistles. Any sound louder than 85 decibels can cause tinnitus, either immediately or after a delay. Often the noises stay for life.

Majorie Hooper, chairman of Tinnitus Action, said: "Anyone of any age would be delighted to receive hi-fi equipment or the latest in personal stereos as presents, without giving a thought to the serious dangers involved.

"It is troubling that such items intended for pleasure can, for some, be an introduction to one of the commonest and potentially extremely serious medical conditions."

She said some 600,000 people in the UK already have tinnitus so badly that their quality of life is affected. The popularity of loud music has been identified as one cause of the trouble.

"Mr Blair and Mr Hague are both pop music fans, so it is apt that they should know the sort of ... sounds now awaiting unsuspecting people, as well as those experienced already by a huge number of the electorate.

"It is time politicians took tinnitus seriously and gave it priority in research and treatment, instead of leaving it as the Cinderella of the NHS."