Permanent Hearing Loss?
May 1, 2005 12:24 PM   Subscribe

I stood next to the speakers at a hip-hop concert last night, and my ears are still ringing. Does this mean that they'll be ringing forever?

My right ear was facing the speakers and it is ringing more than my left ear. I can hear better through my left, but everything seems muffled and suppressed. People have to speak up for me to understand them.

What are your experiences at concerts, and, more importantly, is this going to be permanent?

I plan to go see the doc first thing Monday morning.
posted by scalespace to Health & Fitness (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I saw Tommy the musical and sat pretty near the speakers. My ears rang for much of the next day, but it went away.
posted by cyphill at 12:26 PM on May 1, 2005

I've had ringing in my ears last days after some shows. I finally wised up and started wearing earplugs, and you should too.
posted by Eamon at 12:39 PM on May 1, 2005

Yeah, you shouldn't do that. In my experience, what you're feeling now won't last, but you can inflict long-term damage on your hearing this way.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:40 PM on May 1, 2005

I was right up next to the speakers at many a concert back in high school and the ringing in my ears lasted at most a day or two. Usually you need long term, extended exposure to loud noise/music to do any real damage.
posted by Captain_Science at 12:40 PM on May 1, 2005

AC/DC and L.A. Guns freshman year of high school. My ears rang for a week. It was worth it.

Next time bring ear plugs. They're dirt cheap at any hardware store. Buy a dozen, bring 'em for your friends.
posted by Loser at 12:43 PM on May 1, 2005

the ringing in your ears is caused by damage to your cilia, which are the tiny hairs inside of your ear that change sound into electrical signals for your brain to interpret. the ringing will go away, but the damage to your cilia is irreversible. you only have so many to use up and when they're gone, they're gone! so take care of your hearing.
posted by mcsweetie at 12:44 PM on May 1, 2005

Your problem isn't the ringing, it's the permanent damage you don't hear. Seriously, one concert is probably no big deal if yer young, but long term repetition will permanently hurt your ability to hear higher frequency sounds. One-time very loud noises (explosions, etc.) can damage your hearing, however.
posted by words1 at 12:44 PM on May 1, 2005

Usually you need long term, extended exposure to loud noise/music to do any real damage.

I think that depends on your definition of "real damage." IANAA, but to my knowledge, while one night of standing next to a speaker isn't going to make you go deaf, it'll contribute to inability to hear certain frequencies at a below-average age. Take care of your hearing, especially if you're a musician.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:45 PM on May 1, 2005

At first, I thought the sound system or the soundboard engineer really messed up the mixing, because anything high-pitched sounded extremely distorted.

As the night progressed, I could barely hear the clapping and screaming during the little breaks that would happen.

The ringing isn't particularly bothersome; it's the loss of hearing acuity that I'm kicking myself over (before the show, I had entertained the thought of bringing some earplugs, but I didn't bother).
posted by scalespace at 12:47 PM on May 1, 2005

I've been to many concerts where I had ringing in my ears and couldn't hear well for the next day or two. It eventually goes away, so I wouldn't worry about it.

However, my hearing isn't great and I have occassional tinnitus, and while I can't say for certain it was due to too many loud concerts, it seems likely. One concert probably won't do any noticable long-term damage (unless you sit with your head resting on the speaker or something), but if you go to a lot of concerts, don't sit near the speakers and wear earplugs.

(Yes, I know how scarily like an adult I sound right now. :-))
posted by blm at 12:47 PM on May 1, 2005

You can get tone balanced earplugs. Anybody tried them and have comments?
posted by Chuckles at 1:03 PM on May 1, 2005

Chuckles: "You can get tone balanced earplugs. Anybody tried them and have comments?"

I have a pair of those, but like the dumbass that I am, I always forget to bring them with me.
posted by corpse at 1:51 PM on May 1, 2005

As they have said above, chances are that the ringing will be gone tomorrow, if it's not and you still worry, go to see the doctor. Tinnitus is not fun. If your ears hurt besides ringing a visit to the doctor is in order.

I have had my share of noisy concerts - metal mostly, living in the middle of black metal country as I am. After I invested in a pair of earplugs - tone balanced, similar to the ones in Chuckles' link, any concert experience I've had has been much better. Really. The pair I have just sort of turn the volume down, so am able to sort out the music, not just be attacked by a wall of sound.

I've also noticed that almost all of the serious concert-goers and the musicians themselves wear earplugs. Which should be an indication that the volume is much to loud.
posted by mummimamma at 1:59 PM on May 1, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've got tinnitus that's bad enough that I use a white noise machine at night to "neutralize" it so I can sleep. IANAD, but I think it's pretty likely it developed as a cumulative effect of the many, many loud concerts I went to over the years without earplugs. One of them alone probably wouldn't have done lasting damage (though I do remember one show in high school and another one in grad school that left me partially deaf for nearly a full week afterwards), but I'm positive that together they added up.
posted by scody at 2:03 PM on May 1, 2005

I wish I could take back the concerts I went to without earplugs, and it's not very many.
posted by grouse at 3:02 PM on May 1, 2005

I always forget to bring earplugs so my friends and I just grab some napkins and make our own. It does seem to make a significant difference. Improvise!
posted by tweak at 3:03 PM on May 1, 2005

tweak beat me to it, but I'll join in on "improvise" -- anytime I'm someplace obviously too loud I end up using toilet paper. (In my ears.)
posted by Aknaton at 3:22 PM on May 1, 2005

To extend what mcsweetie said, certain sets of cilia are sensitive to particular frequency ranges. The ringing you hear now are those cilia that were damaged and are dying. Chances are good that you did not kill all of the cilia for a particular range of frequencies, but as exposure increases, those chances decrease.

I once woke up to a ringing ear that was so painful I went to the emergency room. The intern put it into perspective like this: Exposure to loud sounds is most likely to kill off the weaker cilia and as they die, the strength of the message sent the brain is proportional to how healthy they were: weak cilia, weak message, weak ringing. Since my ringing was so loud as to be painful, he said that most likely the cilium (singular ?) that was dying was probably very healthy.
posted by mischief at 3:45 PM on May 1, 2005

It's very important to wear earplugs with modern, digital music. Before the 80's, loud concerts weren't *too* much of an issue. The analog insturments of that era weren't as hard on your ears as modern electronic insturments. If you're going to a very loud concert with a lot of digital sound, you're most certainly going to want to have ear plugs. And don't play your music so loud in enclosed spaces (esp. with headphones), you young whippersnapper!

That being said, at 25, I have permanent tinnitus pretty badly in one ear and I'm probably going to be pretty deaf by 50.
posted by SpecialK at 3:52 PM on May 1, 2005

I've had ringing in my ears last days after some shows. I finally wised up and started wearing earplugs, and you should too.

If it's too loud, you're just too old. I've had ringing for days after shows, too, but it's always gone away.
posted by jonmc at 4:03 PM on May 1, 2005

jonmc, that's just dumb. If it's too loud, it's too loud, and IMO irresponsible of the band/venue. When I saw Orthrelm the only way I could avoid pain was to stand as far away from the band as I could, in a different room.
posted by kenko at 4:30 PM on May 1, 2005

kenko, that was a slogan that they used to use in adverts for Kiss concerts on the radio. I slipped it in as a joke. Although, I've been to several extremely loud shows sans earplugs, and I've never experienced anything worse than a few days of ringing. YMMV.
posted by jonmc at 4:33 PM on May 1, 2005

I damaged my left ear permanently at one very loud concert in 1983. I didn't wise up immediately, but I always use earplugs now. I even put my hands over my ears when ambulances and firetrucks pass, because I want to be able to hear and enjoy music until I'm a cranky old git.
posted by dmo at 4:39 PM on May 1, 2005

It's very important to wear earplugs with modern, digital music. Before the 80's, loud concerts weren't *too* much of an issue. The analog instruments of that era weren't as hard on your ears as modern electronic instruments. If you're going to a very loud concert with a lot of digital sound, you're most certainly going to want to have ear plugs.

I think the issue is with distortion in digital equipment, which is harsher than analog distortion. If there is a good sound man, shows with digital sound can be very loud and cause no discomfort or ringing even immediately after.

Some spaces also have harsh reverberation which can cause hearing damage. One of the best shows in terms of sound I've ever seen was Radiohead at Thunderbird Park in Vancouver. Very loud, lots of digital instruments, and I was pretty close to the right speaker array. I didn't wear earplugs, and never suffered a bit of discomfort because they had good speakers, an excellent sound man and it was out of doors.

In a pinch, go to the washroom and grab toilet paper to fold and put in your ears. As a bonus, I almost always find it easier to hear people I talk to when I have earplugs in at shows.
posted by too many notes at 6:18 PM on May 1, 2005

When I saw Orthrelm the only way I could avoid pain was to stand as far away from the band as I could, in a different room.

hey! my band played with orthrelm before! wooooo!
posted by glenwood at 6:58 PM on May 1, 2005

I've been to two loud concerts without earplugs. The first time was due to inexperience, and the second time was my own (stupid) choice. Depending on how bad the damage is, the cutoff for the highest frequencies you can hear will get knocked lower and lower after being exposed to excessively loud noise. In my experience, tinnitus tends to replace where you were able to hear prior to the damage – the ringing sound becomes more present in lower frequencies. Over the course of a few days, you'll find that your hearing will recover. But it won't be as good as it was before. Live, learn, buy earplugs.

If it's any consolation, I can still hear pest deterrent systems, the shrill sound Ionic Breezes make, TVs being turned on in the other part of a house, etc. You aren't a lost cause, just take care of yourself from now on.
posted by tumult at 7:14 PM on May 1, 2005

I go to lots of rock shows, and always use the Etymotic earplugs. They're great - absolutely worth the money.

jonmc - In all seriousness, you can expect to go deaf at some point in the increasingly near future if you don't protect your ears.

And, for what it's worth, a audiologist friend of mine once told me that stuffing toilet paper/Kleenex/etc into your earholes in lieu of earplugs can actually cause some damage - scratching of the eardrum or some such. Anyone know anything about that?

And scalespace: the ringing will go away, and you probably didn't cause too much permanent damage. It's repeated and prolonged exposure to loud noises that causes the damage. It'll pass in a few days; in the interim, buy yerself some good earplugs.
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:30 PM on May 1, 2005

You have damaged your cochlea by exposing it to the high sound pressure levels. The ringing will go away in a few days. During that time your ears are more vulnerable than they ordinarily would be, so be even more careful not to expose them to loud environments.

Always wear ear protection in the future.

I permanently damaged the hearing in my right ear by playing a 5 minute rendition of The Star Spangled Banner when I was 16. I was told it was clearly audible 3 blocks away; I was standing 7 feet from the amp, which was rated 100W RMS (a 4x6L6 Mesa Boogie Mark IIC+, if you care, playing through a pair of 12" EV 12S' rated at 200W apiece.) That ear rang for 2 weeks and isn't good for much now at mid (speech) and high frequencies; in fact, in loud environments it seems the damaged ear actually makes it harder to hear people talk (I do better when it's plugged.)

I doubt the sound pressure levels were anywhere near that high at your concert, though.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:46 PM on May 1, 2005

tumult sums it up nicely.

I went to too many loud shows, and two separate incidents in the army sealed the deal (being a tank gunner is almost as bad as being in the artillery). Things developed as follows:

At first I would only get a ringing in the ears right after a show. I'd notice that the range of sound I heard was more limited but the range would come back and the ringing went away by the next day. Eventually I noticed that sometimes the ringing would come back when I had smoked a joint, but not much more. Two or three years later I noticed that my ears would often ring if I was really tired, like when you're coding at 2am high on a caffeine buzz.

That all started when I was about 23 years old. I'm 29 now and at this point I get pretty loud tinitis on and off throughout the day, and in the past six months I even have the buzzing sound when I wake up in the morning. It's a real downer. If my girlfriend is in a different room I can't properly make out what she's saying. I can't stand going to clubs anymore because I can't hear what people are saying if there is too much background noise. In March I was snowshoeing at night and enjoyed the stars from the middle of a frozen swamp, and I cried because all I could hear in the wilderness was my ears ringing. I have an iPod that I dare not use. My hearing will never get better, and I can't even imagine how it will get worse when I'm double or triple my current age. Yes, my ears are ringing right now.

The good news is that it's not too late for you. I wear ear plugs now to all the shows I go to, jazz, rockabilly, first row or last. You honestly don't miss out on anything by having them, and the world of difference it makes when you take them out will prove how important they are. Take care.
posted by furtive at 7:55 PM on May 1, 2005

Dr. Wu, regarding paper in the ears: It's not a great idea, but if you touched your tympanic membrane, you would KNOW. You could however cause an infection, or lose a piece of softened tissue in the ear canal.

While looking for information on custom earplugs, I have seen it repeated that paper in the ears will reduce the noise by max 7 db. That's doesn't seem correct to me either, it's probably because most people can't put ear plugs in properly, and they likely can't make an impromptu paper earplug properly. I work around live sound, and have on occasion had to make do with a cocktail napkin or two.

While we're on the subject, it's interesting to note that exposure is sometimes spoken of as X minutes of Y decibels. A shotgun blast beside your head will damage your hearing, but a chef could lose hearing through prolonged exposure to an electric blender. Living in NYC for 8 years has probably injured my hearing, I'm trying to be more consistent about wearing earplugs while riding the subway.

It would be interesting to compare the hearing of adolescents in urban, suburban, and tribal areas. Maybe someone already has... We didn't evolve alongside airplanes, subways, etc..
posted by Jack Karaoke at 8:07 PM on May 1, 2005

I'm glad this topic is getting some exposure. I just pased the 10-year mark with my tinnitus suffering, and I can trace all my long-term issues to loud music exposure in my teens and 20s.

Scalespace, if this is your first exposure to ringing ears, you will probably be fine. If it's not gone within 24 hours, though, take the ringing as a healthy warning for the future, and start wearing earplugs when you go to concerts. Don't worry about the jonmc's in your midst, either; 20 years from now, you'll be glad you were careful. I often get compliments (of all things, along with the usual "wow, that sucks") when I wear earplugs at an excessively loud event. Trust me, there's nothing cool about a ringing in your ears that won't go away.
posted by werty at 9:18 PM on May 1, 2005

Yeah, I was dumb for not bringing earplugs; what makes it dumb is that I had thought about it but decided not to because of a 10-minute inconvenience.

How common is tinnitus, anyway? It seems like quite a few folks here have it.

It's been more than 24hr, and, while my hearing is getting better, it still feels like there's cotton in my right ear and the ringing is still there.

I'm buying earplugs to carry with me all the time now--not just for sleeping or studying.
posted by scalespace at 10:45 PM on May 1, 2005

Almost everyone experiences some form of ringing in the ears when in a quiet place. "Normal" exposure to sound in a modern society is enough to cause premature damage. Notice how children seem to shy away from sound that isn't that loud to you? You probably did it as a kid, too, when your parents played music at volumes that seemed normal to them but were alarming to you. Couple that with the natural hearing loss that comes with age and you'll find that very few people retain the spectrum of audible frequencies that they were born with by the time they reach their 30's.
posted by tumult at 1:00 AM on May 2, 2005

"It was worth it."

No, it isn't. I have tinnitus, likely caused by playing loud amplified music in a small space regularly. A highhat on one side and an over-cranked guitar amp ("I'm not getting enough through the monitors") on the other.

It is a high-pitched whine, like the sound a VDU makes when the flyback transformer is about to go, except it's on the inside.

Sometimes it sounds like cicadas. I hear cicadas and mosquitos that aren't there.

Yeah, it goes away, each time, until the time when it fucking doesn't. And then it never, ever, goes away again. The best you can hope for is to be focussed enough on something else that you aren't paying attention to it.

Ear damage is permanent and cumulative.

I'm 35, and I'm hoping very much to keep my ears as they are. If you manage yours well, it will take many more decades until they're as annoying as mine.

Do you feel lucky, punk?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:14 AM on May 2, 2005

Another thumbs-up for the ER-20s. Don't rock out without them.

I've got a fair bit of hearing loss from over a decade of running PA. I'm lucky -- it's merely a wideband cut, not weird notches -- I can still here beyond 16Khz, which is really a miracle. But I have to be careful -- I'm about one loud noise away from real hearing issues.

Kids: Don't, okay? It seems like a good idea at the time. When it doubt, wear earplugs.

Besides, it's fun to be the only guy who can hear after a show. People are saying the most amazing things, and because of the pounding their ears have taken, they're saying these things loudly.
posted by eriko at 5:28 AM on May 2, 2005

I went to many, many metal concerts as a youth (Kiss 5 times, Ozzy 5 times, Dio 6 times, Nugent 4 times, Metallica 4 times....) and had some ringing. Do like people have said and wear plugs. But my permanent ringing stems from one incident, firing a snub-nosed 38 special, just two shots. I had fired tens of thousands of rounds as a kid, but all shotguns and rifles with no problems. But that one incident gave me permanent ringing and made me more sensitive. Now I can't even fire a 22 without earplugs or I get loud ringing. Impulse noises are much more damaging (this could be the origin of the digital vs. analog difference).
posted by 445supermag at 7:50 AM on May 2, 2005

My dad (Audiologist) says that people have brained themselves to try and stop the ringing.. It's apparently a complex issue, with no clear cut answer. There are medical solutions for some types, but it tinitis comes in various flavors, apparently.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 5:10 PM on May 2, 2005

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