Every now and then when you come back from a loud party, be it an underground EDM night or a rock concert, you may feel there is something not quite right with your hearing.
Or, say, you play in a band yourself, and after each rehearsal in your friend’s garage, not to mention an occasional full-throttle live show you give at your local music club, your hearing gets a little altered, like your ears have been stuffed with cotton wool.
The next day, not only do you perceive speech a little worse (“Whaaat?”) and all the sounds get slightly dull, like coming from behind a wall or at least a thick blanket, but also you may experience a static, high pitch sound similar to a “no signal” tone of an old TV set.
Sounds familiar? The frequency and loudness may vary and even change with time, but this ringing noise usually stays with you the day after a loud event, much like a like a nasty hangover reminding you that you might have gone just a little bit too far this time… But what if it doesn’t leave?
Although the question “Am I going crazy?” may come through your head more than once because you have no clue what is happening with you, and those strange noises you are hearing in your head can indeed drive you mad at times, don’t worry – it is normal.
In fact, many of the world’s biggest stage artists, from Moby to Barbra Streisand to members of Metallica – and the list goes on and on – suffer from the same kind of thing you are experiencing right now.
Moreover, it affects not only musicians, but anyone from construction workers and other industrial staff to race car drivers and even their spectators.
But what exactly is that ringing noise?
The phenomenon of hearing phantom noises when no actual external sound is present, that is not related to any psychiatric condition, is known under the name of tinnitus.
It can occur in the form of constant, temporary or recurring ear ringing, but can also develop other symptoms like hissing, humming or even clicking sounds in both or just one ear.
Tinnitus is not a disease itself, and it can actually be a result of ear infections, heart diseases, brain tumors, emotional stress and physical exhaustion or even a side effect of certain medicines.
But aside of all these and many other possible circumstances, what causes ringing in the ear most often is prolonged exposure to high levels of acoustic pressure.
Listening to loud music on parties and concerts, as well as on headphones – and especially earbuds – are the most common risk factors, which your parents have probably been warning you about.
Well, it would be fair to admit they were right, at least this time. But even constant traffic noise and the sounds present in your working environment every day can and DO have a destructive impact on your hearing, which in the long term may lead to hearing loss and – you guessed it – tinnitus!
When will it end?
Quite frankly, it is very hard or nearly impossible to predict how long will your ear ringing last, because each and every case of tinnitus is different and depends on many factors.
It can go away after a day or two, but if it continues longer than that, or if it appeared suddenly without any significant loud event preceding it, you better go see your doctor as soon as possible.
Thankfully, human body has the ability to heal itself: just like flesh wounds or broken bones, your damaged hearing has the ability to recover.
However, it may never reach the state of full recovery, and your hearing may never be the same as before.
Most importantly, once suffered from hearing damage, you will be more susceptible to injury in the future.
Any louder sound can cause the immediate return of your previous symptoms or emergence of new ones, as serious as feeling physical pain in your ears with every sound that’s louder than a pin drop: hearing a vacuum cleaner running, a car driving by or water pouring into your bath tub can turn into a real nightmare.
Hearing is very vulnerable and once you loose it, you may never get it back. That is why it is crucial that you take every measure to protect it, because you might accidentally and unconsciously reach a point of no return.
Keep in mind that the worst part about tinnitus is not that it will keep on coming back, but that it may never leave, haunting you for the rest of your life like an annoying nursery rhyme you hated in your childhood.
You’re not alone
However downhearted you may feel, overwhelmed by the menace of permanent hearing impairment, you should know that it is one of the many grudges of modern world.
Not only it is a problem shared by thousands of people, but it has also been addressed by organizations, companies and authorities globally.
Although it is mostly musicians suffering from tinnitus we know about because of their fame and media presence (which is a part of their work, obviously), it really concerns regular people no matter their age, sex, nationality, profession or wealth.
If you can’t find a local support group near you, you can search and join an online community of people suffering from tinnitus.
As soon as you realize that you can reach for help to other people from all around the world who understand and share your misery, you will feel somewhat comforted.
Especially if your hearing loss causes direct communication problems and leads to the feeling of isolation.
Here are some links you might find useful:
Having in mind the concerns of their citizens, governments introduce noise pollution regulations and health programs which may vary from country to country, but there are also institutions operating over national and political borders – just as tinnitus does – like World Health Organization, who keep an eye on the problem of hearing disorders.
Meanwhile, scientists all over the globe are working hard to formulate new methods, medicines and tools to fight tinnitus, as do companies who provide specialized medical equipment and hearing protection products.
What can I do to protect myself?
Taking all of the above into account, you’ll probably agree that looking after yourself in terms of hearing protection is something you might give a little more thought from now on.
While there is still no 100% proven cure for tinnitus, you can certainly take some steps to lower the risk of getting it, or minimize the losses if you already have.
Rule number one on keeping your ears intact is to avoid noisy places and loud events: racetracks, shooting ranges, sport arenas, music clubs, concert halls… Sounds tough, right?
Ultimately, we all want to have a good time in our lives and going to parties, sports games or music festivals seems like a pretty normal and harmful activity – and it CAN be like that if you take some necessary precautions.
Of course live sound engineers and DJs are supposed to comply to international or regional loudness limits, but they not always do... and even if they did, standing right in front of a PA speaker all night long won’t go by unnoticed by your hearing organs.
The best way to keep them safe is to mechanically block the amount of sound attacking your eardrums by using protective earplugs – some cities even require free earplugs at live music venues.
Yes, you could think they are uncomfortable and unsexy, but the era of wax-based stoppers your parents (them again!) used when they couldn’t sleep, has long gone.
Simply put, it is the smartest and cheapest way to ensure your well-being while letting you fully enjoy your nightlife just the way you like it.
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