How bad did I screw up my hearing?
May 16, 2010 5:58 PM   Subscribe

How bad did I screw up my ears last night?

I went to a very, very loud bar last night and got stuck near a speaker for about an hour. Immediately after leaving, my hearing was pretty lousy - about 1/3rd of what it normally is. But it's been about 18 hours and I'm getting post-night-out symptoms I haven't experienced before.

Beyond the usual ringing noise, I'm having a lot of problems sensing a range of sounds - everything sounds muffled, like when you have a really bad head cold; sounds above a certain volume are turning into static; and most worryingly, my inner ear feels unpleasantly warm. What the hell did I do to my ears last night? This isn't the usual post-concert ringing, and I'm wondering whether it's worth taking this to get looked at tonight.
posted by ZaphodB to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You'll be fine. Take it from an ex-bar musician who never wore hearing protection and can still hear 22KHz high frequency tones in his mid-40s (they told me I'd go deaf!).

Your ears protect you from sustained loud sounds. That's why you can't hear after exposure to such sounds. The ossicular chain stiffens up to reduce range of motion and potential damage to the tympanum. It's periodic loud sounds like gunshots that do real damage, because the ear has no time to adjust.

That head cold feeling is your body protecting itself. It will go away. Over time, loud music will cause damage with repeated exposure (but it's all these earbud users I worry about, ugh!). But a one time event did no damage, no matter how loud it got. Actually if it was loud enough to trigger your ears going into damage control mode, it's better than if it was not quite loud enough to do that.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:05 PM on May 16, 2010

Best answer: Hopefully you're just experiencing a Temporary Threshold Shift - this is where your ears basically say "screw this" and turn the volume knob down (not exactly a highly scientific explanation, I know).

If it doesn't improve or go away in 12-24 hours it would likely be a good idea to see a doctor.
posted by davey_darling at 6:09 PM on May 16, 2010

Take vitamins A, C, and E, and most importantly, magnesium. Take the magnesium tonight. I'm having trouble tracking down the exact citation, but Israeli scientists started with guinea pigs, determined that using magnesium after exposure to loud sounds could prevent hearing loss. Even better taken beforehand.
posted by adipocere at 6:12 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was at a "post rock" concert that was excruciatingly loud; the next day, I woke up with a headache, still affected by just how loud it was. It was that bad. In a day or two I was back to normal, as best as I can tell, but I would've definitely preferred hearing protection just because of how uncomfortable it was in the aftermath.
posted by disillusioned at 6:14 PM on May 16, 2010

I worked around jet engines for a while. The muffled sound is a typical symptom of prolonged exposure to loud noise. The muffling usually goes away within hours, but FWIW my doc at the time told me that if I got exposed badly enough for the muffling to kick in, there is a slight degree of permanent hearing loss, and that the hearing loss is cumulative with each such exposure.

The static and warm inner ear are not symptoms I've ever experienced, despite several foolish misadventures involving standing three feet away from an operating turbojet without hearing protection.

Also: I'm now the guy who's wearing the dorky yellow earplugs at the club/concert.
posted by Dimpy at 6:27 PM on May 16, 2010

Second the magnesium; it's in some daily multi-vitamins.
posted by stratastar at 6:30 PM on May 16, 2010

Best answer: Taking a multivitamin won't hurt, but it might be too late for it to help [1]. Unfortunately, interventions that are effective post-exposure seem to involve more than just swallowing a pill, e.g., injections of salicylate and trolox (Vitamin E) [2].

[1] Pharmacological Strategies for Prevention and Treatment of Hearing Loss and Tinnitus, Hearing Research, Volume 226, Issues 1-2, April 2007, Pages 22-43
[2] Post-exposure treatment attenuates noise-induced hearing loss, Neuroscience, Volume 134, Issue 2, 2005, Pages 633-642

On preview, here's the an excerpt from [1], in case you don't have journal access: The finding that dietary supplements reduce NIHL is of particular interest given their easy over-the-counter accessibility; however, therapy with any single micronutrient may need to be initiated days to weeks in advance of noise exposure to obtain clinically meaningful results. Whereas a 35-day pre-treatment protocol significantly reduced NIHL (see Fig. 3) and sensory cell death (see McFadden et al., 2005), vitamin C treatment initiated 48 h prior to noise exposure failed to prevent noise-induced cell death (500 mg/kg ascorbic acid, i.p., 48 h, 24 h, and 5 min prior to noise exposure, Branis and Burda, 1988). Pre-treatment requirements may vary across micronutrients, as vitamin E reduced NIHL with treatment initiated 3 days pre-noise (Hou et al., 2003) (see Fig. 3), and vitamin A reduced NIHL with treatment initiated 2 days pre-noise (Ahn et al., 2005). As with GSH-based strategies (i.e., Fig. 2), reduction of NIHL with dietary antioxidants has been incomplete (see Fig. 3). While dietary treatments may need to be provided for some longer period of time pre-noise to be maximally effective, high-dose vitamin C did not completely prevent NIHL even with 35 days pre-treatment, and stable plasma and tissue levels of vitamin C are obtained (in humans) approximately 3 weeks after beginning dietary treatment.
posted by suncoursing at 6:57 PM on May 16, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the reassurances everybody. I've popped some multivitamins - it can't hurt. I'm still disconcerted about the warmth and pain inside the ear. Has anyone experienced that aspect before?
posted by ZaphodB at 7:16 PM on May 16, 2010

I saw GWAR a while ago and ended up right next to a speaker. I could hear nothing out of my left ear except a rather loud ringing for about three days. I can't tell any difference now, but I'm still upset that I didn't get any bodily fluids spewed at me.
posted by cmoj at 8:49 PM on May 16, 2010

IANAD and am totally unqualified to give medical advice, but if you do have pain and odd sensations in your ear, it seems like you might want to call your GP and have them take a look.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:38 PM on May 16, 2010

I've felt the warm ear before. Kind of weird, isn't it?

On the other hand, I also have frequent adult ear infections, some hearing loss, unusual problems with my ears in low elevations, and I blew out my eardrum last year.

Frankly, the warmth in your ear doesn't seem likely to be a symptom of a ruptured eardrum, but I'm no doctor, so I'm not in any way implying that you have or will experience any of those events; I'm saying bring ear protection in your pocket next time and if you experience symptoms that continue past Wed or so I'd recommend seeing a GP just to be paranoid.
posted by librarylis at 2:00 AM on May 17, 2010

Best answer: Warmth and pain? Yep.
Stood next to the speaker stack at at least one concert and came away with about 48 hours of my right ear being very muffled, ringing, and somewhat warm and painful, but went back to normal fine after that. If it is particularly uncomfortable, rather than just the cobined effects being uncomfortable I'd definitely see a doctor, but it does sound pretty typical.
posted by opsin at 7:00 AM on May 17, 2010

All this vitamin stuff is pure bullcrap. You had a single exposure to loud music. It won't do any measurable permanent damage and there is no reason to take magnesium.

Vitamin supplements are mostly useless for most people. Certainly for this.

Sorry, but it's just the truth. Paranoid hypochondria is worse for you then sitting in the front row of a heavy metal concert fifty times a year.

posted by fourcheesemac at 3:48 AM on May 21, 2010

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