4 Simple Ways to Prevent Hearing Loss

Our ears are constantly at work. From the moment we wake up, to the moment we fall asleep, and then throughout sleep, our ears continuously absorb sound waves and send electrical signals to our brains for interpretation. While they give us the capacity for appreciating and understanding spoken language and music, they also make up one of our core survival mechanisms. While our eyes have only a narrow field of view, we hear in 360 degrees.

Unfortunately, modern living presents many risks to one's hearing, the greatest offender being portable music and headphone use. Many of us now use headphones on a regular basis, always turned up a little bit more to drown out other ambient noises. The music on portable devices is also almost always compressed. This lower quality means that our ears work harder to fill in the gaps.

We have come some distance in hearing restoration though. Charles Limb, speaking in a TED Talk to the state of the technology of cochlear implants, shows how hearing can be restored in a person who is deaf to the point where one can have a conversation. He comments, though, that while this is a huge improvement, we really desire senses that can appreciate the most beautiful things in life. In terms of enjoying music, these cochlear implants still do poorly. Pitches often sound close to an octave off for the listener, rendering the music unlistenable.

So, what can be done to protect one's hearing? What are the strategies for preserving this gift that sustains many of us for work, and all of us for much enjoyment?

1. Limit your exposure to loud noises. It is one of the best things you can do and simply means taking some extra care in certain situations. For instance, while listening to music can make a subway commute more enjoyable, there is also generally so much background noise that you have to turn the volume up much higher in order to hear the music. Take a moment in a silent situation to know at what volume you can enjoy a track and then try not to exceed it when listening to music elsewhere. In the situation of the subway ride, though, perhaps it would be even better just to catch up on some reading.

2. Consider purchasing a good set of ear plugs.
They can help in many situations and there are a range of options in terms of custom fittings and what frequencies can be dampened. Some musicians shy away from plugs for performing as they believe their performances will suffer as a result. The key, as with anything, is to find a good balance.

3. Invest in a good set of headphones. This is essential if you are going to be doing a lot of listening. Take a look at the many online reviews and if you can, try out the headphones for both comfort and sound quality. While noise cancellation may be an important feature for the traveler, a decent pair of reference level earmuff type headphones are best for work. You might also consider upgrading your digital music collection to a lossless format such as Apple Lossless or FLAC. For many, this may involve re-ripping their entire music collections and although the files will take up more space, it is a worthwhile endeavour.

4. Make sure to take a few breaks. Giving your ears the opportunity to rest from exposure to loud noise is critical to their well being. Hearing loss is generally irreversible. Taking breaks, whether it be from listening to your music on headphones or from rehearsing, will help to stave much of the long term damage.


As a musician, do you have issues with your hearing? Have you discovered a great set of earplugs? How about headphones? Let us know in the comments!
Posted by Dave English on 08/03/2012 | 12 comments

Comments

andysorenson
Posted by andysorenson on Aug 3 2012 8:08 AM
[quote= As a musician, do you have issues with your hearing? ! [/quote] Huh? :D
The Other Side
Posted by The Other Side on Aug 3 2012 10:43 AM
I purchased a faily expensive pair that blocks out all the harmfull frequences but still lets the music through. I don't wear ear plugs when performing but always do when listening to the other bands on the bill. The music coming through the PA is always louder than what you hear on stage. It also helps you to be able to hear your own performance better as your ears are not strained by the time you hit the stage.
Sky Bishop
Posted by Sky Bishop on Aug 3 2012 4:14 PM
Great topic, so glad you posted this Dave! I'm the biggest wimp ever but I don't care. I wear ear plugs all day every day. I only take them out to shower and sleep. I have different ear plug "settings" depending on what the volumes are at the time, with the conventional "pushed in all the way setting" reserved for loud volumes. Even wear them with headphones. I've been doing this since 1999 when I developed tinnitus. Despite the tinnitus my hearing is now very good. These days the sound of, say a kettle boiling is too loud for me without hearing protection. I think this must be a side effect of protecting my hearing for over 10 years. Have to say I wouldn't have it any other way. As musicians we really owe it to ourselves to protect our ears. And even for none musicians, music is just too good to risk hearing damage. So ear plugs rock. It takes about 20 minutes of constant loud volume a day for permanent hearing loss to take place. That's 20 minutes straight, not 20 minutes spread over a day. I do take the ear plugs out briefly when I'm mixing or mastering. But I keep the volume at listening level, not extreme. For extreme volume tests without ear plugs I go into the next room. I always wear them on stage, took a lot of getting used to at first. I can understand why most musicians don't wear them on stage. I've always used the cheap foam disposable sort from the drug store. Didn't know there was such a variety out there.:agree:
Marci Ehrhart
Posted by Marci Ehrhart on Aug 11 2012 12:00 AM
I have really been paranoid about this lately as I have noticed when I go to bed and it's quiet I have ringing. I am so scared that I will lose some hearing and then sing off pitch. I wear ear plugs for yard work, concerts I go to, and things like that, but I have headphones on all day when I type transcrition. Can you "heal" any loss? Does it work to wear earplugs under your headphones (full ear)? I want to wear them when the band practices, but is it hard to play and sing that way? I also wonder about those in ear monitors. Wouldn't that possibly cause hearing damage too? Or is that better than stage monitors and all the noise? Thanks!
Sky Bishop
Posted by Sky Bishop on Aug 11 2012 3:23 PM
Try not to worry too much about your hearing, Marci. Sometimes hearing can heal itself over time and by limiting excessive exposure to high volumes. There's really no definitive answer, everyone is different. I'm sure most musicians have a bit of ringing, I know I do. Sometimes ringing in the ears can be brought on by stress and fatigue. My ringing goes up when I'm tired, and fades down when I'm well rested. Yeup wearing earplugs with headphones works. Yeup wearing earplugs while rehearsing/performing is difficult at first. If you stick at it you'll eventually get used to it. Particularly with singing. You can hear your own voice inside your head and it's very confusing. Took me months to get used to it. Now I don't think twice. In ear monitors or IEM's block out ambience on stage and typically your vocals/instrument should come in at a comfortable volume. They are headphones so take care. Some can pack a punch of up to 140db(!!!). So it's important to work with your sound peeps to determine a comfortable mix for you because they're only as safe as you set them. The brain sends signals to the ears to 'close off' in loud environments. This is a natural defence. Some people like to have one monitor in one ear and their other ear without. So they can hear stage ambience as well as their own signal. This is a bad idea because the brain can't process what volume you're hearing properly and will send a signal to the ears to 'pick up more volume' which can lead to hearing damage over time. This occurs when each ear is picking up different volumes. I don't use in ear monitors. I prefer earplugs.
Andrea Wolper
Posted by Andrea Wolper on Aug 11 2012 4:18 PM
If you have ringing in your ears you need to find out why. MANY people have it, so don't freak out, but do some research into tinnitus. Caffeine, stress, and inadequate sleep can add to the problem, and those are, to some degree, fixable. On the other hand, someone I know complained about ringing in his ears and it turned out he had a benign tumor on his acoustic nerve. That's rare, at the more extreme end of the causes, and probably not the source of your ringing. But you should find out why. If it's keeping you awake or otherwise really disturbing, white noise or pink noise (downloadable as apps) can help block it ou. Musicians' earplugs (specially made to fit your ears) can help protect your hearing and even possibly help minimize the effect of the ringing (that is, if the ringing seems worse when you have a lot of external sonic input, then attenuating that input might help calm down the ringing).
Helena Kaldalons
Posted by Helena Kaldalons on Aug 11 2012 5:33 PM
This is a really good topic. As a singer I am also concerned about my hearing and I wear earplugs when I vacuum, blowdry my hair, or drive my convertible or do anything noisy. When I watch TV I will also pause or mute for just a few seconds, and then turn the volume down while muted and then un-mute, it is amazing how you don't miss the extra decibels after a moment of silence! It makes me think we turn everything up too loud to begin with, you don't really need it that loud to hear it! I have suffered with tinnitus and ringing, and I have to say it is a lot worse when I am tired or run down. Caffeine affecting it is also an interesting idea and I am sure it could be true. I don't wear earplugs while on stage, but as soon as i'm off, I put them in. I have the expensive £16 ones that have removable filters, the ones favoured by djs and bouncers. I found them online in the UK. I am also very careful now when I go to other people's gigs or concerts. I wear my earplugs and will also go outside now and again just to rest my ears. Rock concerts can be so loud your eyes water! Take care of your ears people! Good topic!!!
Synaptic Machines
Posted by Synaptic Machines on Aug 11 2012 11:09 PM
Hi - like many of us, music is my life. I nearly lost music... It was 6 years ago, I was giving a gig with my Heavy rock band - monitors too loud... ear trauma. Since, continuous Tinittus around 6-8kHz measured at 50dB, and hyperacousy, Sounds above 80dB or long periods above 70dB start to hurt me and I need time to recover Because of one f... concert. And guess what. Who pulled me out of this mess? Music, her again, haha! via my acoustic guitar. I became very acoustic for a while playing sweet duets with a female singer in small bars. Then three years after the incident went on stage again with a small folk band... And now it's been 2 years, I am fully electro, back into louder music but I my studio sessions I always stay at low volume. I actually monitor the level from time to time with a soundmeter (less than 40 Euros on Amazon _ i can give the refs to those who I interested). I don't go often to clubs though... and do plan to keep my promotion on the internet (making regular gigs in the style of music I like is too risky) Now the tricks. I still have the same symptoms today, they are here for life, but managed to accept them and train my brain to fourier transform and filter (Strangely, my mixes have improved!). However I still need to take precautions, so this is what I do: Earphones: do not use noise cancelling, not good enough in my opinion. Use those that become ear plugs too: No problem listening to your music in the sub at low volume. These cut 35dB off. So you can listen confortably at 50-55dB, well below dangerous levels. Examples. M-Audio IE10 (I like this one - studio monitoring class sound) or Ethymothic research stuff (not as good but still very acceptable). Breaks: give your ears a break from time to time. For each hour with earphones, have at least an hour without. Volumes: Do not go above a base of 80dB for 8 hours per day , 90dB for 1 hour, 100 dB for 10 minutes etc... Above this volume x time quantity, your ears are being irreversibly damaged Ear plugs: Always have earplugs with you when you go out to party. Invest in good ones - they stay very musical and can be very discrete. Even with my condition I still go to concerts and enjoy myself as if there was no problem. I just use good earplugs which cut at least 30dB. I find the standard rehearsal ones (About 20-30Euros), well acceptable. You can also arrange some to be made customised to your ear shape (100-150 Euros) Rehearsal / gigs: same story - ear plugs You just need to be exposed once. I read somewhere that 10% of the population that gets this suicides or make suicides attempts, 40% get seriously depressive and the others, well, they get by and learn how to enjoy life with that never ending noise in their heads. I am so glad to be part of the last half! If after a concert you hear ringing after more than a few minutes that means that you are a part of the population than can easily get tinnitus... So stay safe, and you will enjoy music fully all your life Addition: And for those that already suffer from it, even milder cases - I just read a post in this blog - I recommend you follow these rules strictly (wear good earplugs at your gigs and rehearsals, please! I did like you before: weared them when going to concerts, but wanted to hear clear when on stage - biggest mistake in my life - besides, your brain adapts to the filtering of ear plugs in a few minutes , use them on stage too!)
Dave Cool
Posted by Dave Cool on Aug 13 2012 7:59 PM
Hey Synapticmachines, I too suffer from tinnitus and hyperacusis, not easy. Thanks for your comments and great advice. Glad you were able to get back to playing the music that you love. Cheers, DC Cheers, Dave Cool (Yes, that’s my real name) Director of Artist Relations Bandzoogle
Tim & Maggie
Posted by Tim & Maggie on Aug 16 2012 3:44 PM
Great info here! Also, aspirin can aggravate tinnitus. I've got it, and my biggest problem is that when I wear ear plugs, it reduces all sounds EXCEPT the ringing, so makes hearing much more difficult as tuning out the ringing is near impossible. The only real problem I have with that isn't so much with music as it is with tuning pianos (my day job.) I find it too difficult to tune when the ringing is virtually amplified with ear plugs. So, I've learned how to control the muscles in my ears that tighten things up & reduce vibration, and hence reduce volume levels. I wouldn't recommend this for settings with constant loudness, but it works great with intermittent blasts of sound. ;) PS - This is my first post. I wanted to get in on the info sharing, but won't be able to do much with this or my website until I finish school...one more year. :) Mags
Synaptic Machines
Posted by Synaptic Machines on Aug 21 2012 6:56 PM
Mags, If you have tinnitus, do not hear earplugs when you are not surrounded by loud sounds, and especially not in the silence of the night... that does exactly what you describe (for me 2). Exterior sound is good as it can help your brain to "forget" about it for a while, therefore giving a break to your limbic system (nervousness). However, I would always have them in your pocket just in case unexpected loudness occurs. I can imagin that for Piano tuning it's not ideal, but except if your Tiny is on a frequency range interfering with piano notes, should be OK. Anyway, if this is the case I am sure you can find some help from portable spectrum analysis devices, right? Good luck to ya! Musical Greetz Edouard from Synaptic Machines
Erin
Posted by Erin on Apr 6 2014 6:58 PM
Have you seen EarAngels? Discreet earplugs that attach to your earrings. You gotta check these out! http://www.earangels.com/