Add to modern maladies a new form of barber's itch -- I think we could call it "Blow-Drying Babble" -- described in a letter in the Jan. 7 New England Journal of Medicine.

A Cleveland patient reported pain and "a crunching sound" when chewing and swallowing. These are possible symptoms of an ear infection, a hair growing well inside the ear or a wandering insect. None of these was found, Drs. William Schiavone and Howard Levine said.

What was found was a quarter-inch-long scalp hair caught in the auditory canal "so as to make intermittent, noisy, painful contact" with the eardrum. How did it get there? Blown in by a blow-drier after a haircut.

A couple of earfuls The New England Journal hasn't reported:

A colleague tells of a friend who a few weeks ago was bewildered by endlessly hearing a tiny, chirping rendition of "Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly." Turned out it was a music-making liquor ad in a magazine, intended to sound off only when the magazine was opened. The magazine had gotten buried under a pile of others and was endlessly protesting.

This colleague also tells of the time her mother, then 83, was almost maddened by hearing a conversation-like but unintelligible muttering "inside her head." Turned out it was the ground-to-air, air-to-ground exchange from a nearby control tower, picked up on her hearing aid.

Well, ear today, gone tomorrow.