NPR logo Turn It Down: Tinnitus Story Hurts Listeners' Ears

Turn It Down: Tinnitus Story Hurts Listeners' Ears

Sometimes the seemingly smallest things get the biggest responses.

Many of you wrote after hearing Nancy Shute's Morning Edition piece, "Tinnitus: Why Won't My Ears Stop Ringing?". The story featured a high-pitched tone imitating tinnitus, the medical term for a ringing sound in your ears.

"I have tinnitus and I really wanted to hear this story, but you played a horrible tinnitus tone twice during the story while people where talking," wrote Sue Held from Boulder, Colorado. "This type of tone can temporarily worsen tinnitus, or even be painful."

James Sytsma from Newport Beach, California, wrote, "Since listening to the broadcast more than half an hour ago, I have had a splitting headache and loud ringing in my ears."

We forwarded nearly a dozen complaints to Anne Gudenkauf, the supervising senior editor on the science desk. A warning was placed at the top of the story shortly following — "* Caution: This story contains a high-pitched sound that simulates what tinnitus sufferers hear."

"I don't see any indication that these specific noises — more than any loud noise— cause tinnitus," said Gudenkauf. "However the ATA [American Tinnitus Association] clearly warns users about hearing the noises at high volume. In hindsight, we should have warned our radio audience as well."

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As I suffer from tinnitus, as occasionally does our intern Andrew, I couldn't agree more. We should have warned the audience. But I have to admit I wouldn't have thought to do so either.