buzz off
June 23, 2008 2:44 AM   Subscribe

I live in an apartment that gets a lot of street noise, so sometimes I use earplugs when it gets to be too much. The problem is that when I use them I hear a constant buzzing noise that's really distracting.

Any ideas on whether this is because of cheap earplugs (and hence avoidable with better ones), noise that isn't being blocked out, or just the way brains work?
posted by trig to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Could it be tinnitus?
posted by lungtaworld at 2:50 AM on June 23, 2008

Depending on what kind of buzzing, I would say you have tinnitus and you don't notice it until you block out external sound.
posted by mzurer at 2:51 AM on June 23, 2008

When I wear earplugs, I hear my pulse and breathing, but I never hear a buzzing noise. I think tinnitus is a possibility.
posted by happyturtle at 2:58 AM on June 23, 2008

mzurer, can you elaborate on "what kind of buzzing"?
posted by trig at 3:18 AM on June 23, 2008

or just the way brains work?

Yeah, I was told by my doctor when I mention occasional tinnitus there's a certain percentage of the population who get tinnitus if you remove all external sound. Though mine comes and goes, I don't get it everytime I use ear plugs for instance.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:31 AM on June 23, 2008

Any ideas on whether this is because of cheap earplugs (and hence avoidable with better ones), noise that isn't being blocked out, or just the way brains work?

It could be the plug itself, the way it interacts with your ear, or some weird side-effect.

Vary the type of plug you use.
posted by three blind mice at 4:13 AM on June 23, 2008

Tinnitus manifests itself in many different ways. Some people get the classic 'ringing', like a distant fire alarm, others get buzzing or whining. I have the latter - a high pitched whistle a bit like the sound an old-style TV set makes. Earplugs make me very aware of it, but general day to day noise pretty much blocks it out (plus I gather the brain sort of 're-tunes' your hearing over time to cancel out those frequencies). Have you been exposed to lots of noise? Gigs? Clubs? Excessive iPod use? I can probably trace the damage to a few specific gigs.
posted by jonathanbell at 5:39 AM on June 23, 2008

No gigs, no clubs, and I try to listen at low volumes. Just lots of street noise. :-)
posted by trig at 5:49 AM on June 23, 2008

I have tinnitus and its just like jonathanbell said. I never listened to loud music or went to a ton of concerts or worked with loud machinery ... sometimes it just happens. Mine started when my ear began ringing as I walked across my living room on October 17, 2001, and it hasn't stopped since. Sometimes the environmental sounds around me blocks it out but if I plug up my ears, or even put my left ear toward the pillow, I hear it loud and clear.
posted by lpsguy at 6:05 AM on June 23, 2008

Maybe your building has a generator or air conditioner that makes a noise that you normally can't hear until other noises are blocked out. Try noise-canceling headphones or white noise generators.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:57 AM on June 23, 2008

I get this with foam plugs if I have the plug inserted to far and it touches my ear drum.
posted by Mitheral at 7:33 AM on June 23, 2008

You could try masking the sound instead of, or in addition to, blocking it. If you have access to software that can generate tones, you can try this: Make a short three-minute track that oscillates low frequency and brown/pink noise (white is a little harsh), and loop it. This is what I do and it masks out everything (presumably including tinnitus). Not to mention it is soothing to listen to and I don't need to wear ear plugs any longer.
posted by whiskeyspider at 7:53 AM on June 23, 2008

Thanks for the answers and suggestions.
posted by trig at 12:24 PM on June 23, 2008

I have tinnitus, so earplugs are useless for me (because all I hear when I put them in is ringing). I drown out the noise (external and internal) with a white noise machine and, for our bedroom, foam window plugs.
posted by scody at 12:41 PM on June 23, 2008

Do you actually hear the buzzing or are you feeling it? Does it increase when you are moving your head, especially if you put your chin down to your chest? I'm just curious about it.
posted by bz at 2:33 PM on June 23, 2008

As whiskeyspider says, listening to wide-band (brown, pink or white) noise either through headphones or in the room may be your best practical solution. If you can't make your own, there are commercially available white-noise CDs and mp3s on which you could, for example, crank the bass on your audio player to approximate pink noise (which is a more bass-heavy white noise).

That would be a balancing act, though; if you try it, especially through headphones, please be careful to keep the volume as low as you can, because it would be easy to cause more damage to your ears that way. (Wide-band noise is more damaging to your hearing at moderate volumes -- more damaging relative to how "loud" it feels to you -- than typical music).
posted by kalapierson at 4:18 PM on June 23, 2008

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