Can You Hear Me Now?

From the mailbag: Someone asked me to talk about tinnitus

The official definition from the Mayo Clinic:


Tinnitus (TIN-ih-tus) is the perception of noise or ringing in the ears. A common problem, tinnitus affects about 1 in 5 people. Tinnitus isn't a condition itself — it's a symptom of an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, ear injury or a circulatory system disorder.
Can I Hear You?

First, if you think you might have tinnitus or some sort of hearing loss, seek professional help with your doctor or an audiologist. There can be various causes, including certain diseases and medical conditions.


It just so happens that I had my hearing checked at an audiologist a few weeks ago. Besides having tinnitus, I was concerned that I might have a sharp dip/notch in the mid frequencies. Besides performing, I do a lot of recording/mixing/mastering, so my ears are extremely important. I also wanted to get a snapshot of my hearing today, in order to compare how it has changed, or not, the next time I get it checked out. Fortunately, my hearing is surprisingly flat until the high frequencies, where it has a steep roll off, which is most likely due to my age.

Second, if you play any musical instrument, and/or play in any sort of band/orchestra/group, and you don't use hearing protection, then you are just asking for trouble! Unfortunately, when I first started playing drums in the late 1960s, and then playing in bands, no one ever thought about using any sort of hearing protection. In the 1970s, I played in mostly hard rock and progressive rock bands. The guitarists and bassists always had large stacks of speakers that I sat between, so their sound was at my ear level, and I was in close proximity to their amplifiers. I was exposed to dangerous decibel levels repeatedly.

The guitarists and bassists had the advantage of standing up further in front of their speakers, so the sound wasn't as direct. I was also in the middle of a whole array of drums and cymbals. So where I sat was the loudest place on stage. Unfortunately, years of this practice has taken a toll on my hearing and today I live with an constant ringing in my ears (it's ringing loudly right now). 

Years later, after the damage was done, I did start using ear protection, both when practicing and performing. I also now wear ear protection when using power tools, the lawn mower, a vacuum cleaner, or any other noisy items. I especially wear hearing protection to concerts and other loud events.

This has also become a necessity in many situations as I am also noise sensitive (sounds kind of weird for a drummer to say that, but it's true). I can have a difficult time in very loud, noisy crowds—like in restaurants, sporting events, even at parties. Using some sort of ear filters to tone down the decibels works great. Otherwise, I have to leave.

What Do You Do For Your Tinnitus?

I'm not an expert, and each person's tinnitus and what aggravates it is different. For some people it's a ringing (like me), for others it's more of a buzz, or a hiss. For me, sometimes stress aggravates it and makes it more noticeable. High blood pressure can do the same. Being in a noisy environment can bring it on. Sometimes, there doesn't seem to be any reason for it to be more noticeable (like right now as I write this), but it is. For some people, certain medications can exaggerate it. Head and neck injuries can also cause it.

Please realize that tinnitus is a 24/7, 365 day a year for the rest of your life thing! It's always with me, it's just that sometimes it's more noticeable than others. I never hear complete silence anymore. There's always some sort of ringing in my ears.

What do I do for it? Well, there's no cure or medication for it, unless you have certain medical conditions causing it, because it's basically damage to your ears. I've learned to ignore it in most cases, or to distract myself from it with activities, or some sort of background sound/noise. Some people seem to find white noise effective in masking it. Sometimes, like right now, it's there, and I just try to focus on writing this blog, ignoring it. Background music can help, or anything that distracts your brain from focusing on the ringing.

For some people, it can be maddening and completely affect their lives. It may be difficult or impossible to sleep, or even do daily activities.

Prevention Is The Only Cure!

Again, if you are a musician, you should use some type of hearing protection. That's the only way to prevent tinnitus from occurring, and even then, you could still get it due to some other cause besides loud music. Hearing protection has come a long way in the past 20 or so years. You can now get a wide variety of in ear noise filters that are available for different decibel levels. Many of them allow you to hear the same frequency spectrum, but attenuated to a much lower volume. Others can completely block out most sound. I have different types for different applications and volume levels. You can also get a wide range of over the ear headphone style noise filters. Prices start at around $15 USD to hundreds for custom fit filters from an audiologist. You can also get inexpensive decibel meters or meter apps for your phone. This way you can check out the sound level of your environment.

In ear style filter

Over the ear style filter



So What About Playing Gongs?

Large gongs are capable of creating high sound pressure levels. This can be particularly troublesome if you play at a loud volume level over a sustained period of time, for example, like many of the Kundalini style players do. If you play the gongs and then have ringing, or a sort of muffled/hollow sound in your ears afterwards, that is a sign of possible hearing damage. GET IT CHECKED OUT!

For me, it all depends on the situation and the room acoustics. Personally, I don't ever play really loudly with the gongs. I don't find a need for it. And if I do, it's only a crescendo for a very short period of time. That said, sometimes I'm in a smaller room, or a very bright, reflective room, and the sound seems to be stay right around me. In that sort of situation, I will wear ear filters. And other times, especially if I am tired, I will feel more sensitive to the sound/volume, and wear ear filters to tone it down a bit. 

Can You Still Hear me?

In conclusion, follow these steps:

  1. Get your hearing checked regularly every year or two.
  2. Wear ear protection when practicing/performing at loud sound levels.
  3. Wear ear protection when in loud environments or using power tools.
  4. See a doctor/audiologist if you suspect any sort of hearing problem.
Stay safe and keep your ears healthy!

~ MB

Chop Wood / Carry Water / Play Gongs™ / Use ear Protection






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