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Noise Kills: When Everyday Sound Becomes Torture
March 15, 2013 7:17 AM   Subscribe

Hyperacusis is a condition where the slightest noise causes unbearable pain. It can result in phonophobia (fear of noise) and sometimes lead to suicide. Tinnitus is a far more common sound processing disorder, but severe cases can also lead to depression [autoplaying video] and suicide. The most serious threat to hearing comes from prolonged exposures to amplified live music (concerts).

Should I wear earplugs to concerts?
How music got so loud
How loud is too loud?
Why do loud noises cause your ears to ring?

Occupational hearing loss is the most common work-related injury in the United States.
OSHA article on Occupational Noise Exposure
posted by desjardins (81 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I know a threw a lot of links at you guys, but the first one is a really good article (albeit long and tragic).
posted by desjardins at 7:26 AM on March 15, 2013


WHAT DID YOU SAY?
posted by maryr at 7:32 AM on March 15, 2013


I have younger friends who, literally with no exaggeration, listen to iPod/iPhone earbuds at maximum volume all the time just walking around like it's no big deal. I could hear them coming across a lawn on campus, or down a long busy hallway. I don't understand how they do it...I mean, I physically could not do that. My arms would bat the things out of my ears like a buzzing insect or something. Don't you have to be partially deaf beforehand to even try that? It boggles my mind. Even 50% volume on my phone is CRAZY loud to me.
posted by trackofalljades at 7:33 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields has this as well. If you ever see them live, he'll jam his fingers in his ears during every ovation.

Can someone recommend earplugs either specifically made for live music, or particularly good for live music? Perhaps made out of some space-age material that doesn't utterly destroy the fidelity of the music?
posted by griphus at 7:33 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why don't venues distribute smaller speakers throughout the space*? I've long avoided concerts because they're so unpleasantly loud- I would consider going if they kept it 90dB or less.

*Yes, I'm aware that this will create interference patterns in the resulting sound, but that's a small price to pay for being able to attend concerts at all.
posted by Jpfed at 7:35 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I have to say, that the sheer loudness of a concert is sometimes a wonderful, wonderful thing. I saw Mono (the Japanese post-rock band, not the trip-hop group) who are known for being INCREDIBLY FUCKING LOUD and it was just wonderful to be there and BATHED in noise. Everything I heard for at least 24-hrs after was muffled but god damn was it an amazing experience.
posted by griphus at 7:36 AM on March 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


Stephin Merritt talks about his hyperacusis a bit in this interview with Quietus.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:38 AM on March 15, 2013


I, too, hear the music of the spheres. And yes, I should have worn earplugs to that one concert.
posted by capricorn at 7:39 AM on March 15, 2013


I regularly wear earplugs - at work, riding my motorcycle, even on long drives in the car. The audiologists always say I have surprisingly good hearing. Perhaps a good business plan will be hearing aids.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:40 AM on March 15, 2013


Even when I was young and was going to a lot of concerts I never understood why bands (especially bar bands) would crank up the volume to a level where they're injuring their audience. Loud, sure. So loud you can't really enjoy the music without worrying about your ears or even hear it properly because the venue's sound system can't handle it? No thanks.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:41 AM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


As much as I love going to concerts, and love the atmosphere, I'm not so much in love with the fuzziness in my head and the dullness of sound for the 24-48 hours after anymore. I used to be a loud headphone listener, but I've noticed in the last couple years that I'm actually starting to lose a bit of hearing. High and low tones leap out at me, but the middle, especially in a crowded, bustling kind of place, they just get away from me. It's weird, because the increased sensitivity to high and low tones drives me nuts. I can't *not* hear the stuff, so I wear headphones pretty much all the time, though now I keep them on the lowest volume setting, but still, long term, I think I'm pretty much fucked.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:42 AM on March 15, 2013


That guy's story is so sad :(

My husband, who has spectacular hearing, is always asking me to turn down the volume on my headphones, saying that he wants me to be able to hear when we're elderly (we're in our mid-twenties now). Having listened to music on headphones since I was a preteen, occasionally (not often!) loudly enough to feel like I'm in my own one-person concert in the middle of noisy NYC, I already have that little tinny ring in my ears sometimes. I certainly wouldn't want to have worse tinnitus though.

I don't go to many concerts or nightclubs solely because they're so uncomfortably loud. Would it kill them to lower the volume to a less heartthrobbing loudness?
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 7:44 AM on March 15, 2013


Is there a term for being able to consciously turn your own tinnitus on and off? Because I have that.
posted by Z. Aurelius Fraught at 7:47 AM on March 15, 2013


One of my best friends had tinnitus once, and it was pretty bad. About three months in, he started making playful "jokes" about drilling into his head to get the ringing out, and he constantly had to have some background noise around no matter where he went (even when he fell asleep) to overpower the tinnitus. If it had lasted much longer, I would have considered him a suicide risk. Disorders like this can really be a serious condition, and their effect cannot be understated.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:48 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder if we'll eventually see class action lawsuits against rock clubs and concert venues like we do against tobacco companies?
posted by Rock Steady at 7:49 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, everyone who sees live music on a regular basis really should go to the audiologist on a regular basis as well.
posted by griphus at 7:51 AM on March 15, 2013


> I have younger friends who, literally with no exaggeration, listen to iPod/iPhone earbuds at maximum volume all the time just walking around like it's no big deal.

Almost every person listing to music at aggressively loud levels on public transit is young. First I get annoyed. Then I take pleasurable solace in the fact that they'll probably be deaf by the time they're 40. Then I feel guilty about wishing misfortune on them. It's a complicated stew of negative emotions.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:51 AM on March 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is there a term for being able to consciously turn your own tinnitus on and off? Because I have that.

One term would probably be 'making capricorn extremely jealous' >:|

;)
posted by capricorn at 7:53 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why don't venues distribute smaller speakers throughout the space*?
...
I never understood why bands (especially bar bands) would crank up the volume to a level where they're injuring their audience.
...
Would it kill them to lower the volume to a less heartthrobbing loudness?


Everyone wondering about how/why bands play so loud should check out this thread on My Bloody Valentine (or basically any other thread on them.) They're renowned for playing some of the loudest live music ever, and there's a reason to it, not just loud because loud. Here is a particularly good comment on the aesthetics of loudness.
posted by griphus at 7:53 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there a term for being able to consciously turn your own tinnitus on and off?

Natural 20 on the genetic lottery.
Envied.
Show-off (just kidding).

My ears been ringin' since at least Iron Maiden's "World Slavery Tour" in 1985. I was part of that generation of metalheads who occasionally stuffed some cotton in our ears as we banged our heads, and I'M astounded by how the kids these days turn up the volume on their headphones till I can hear it ON THE BART TRAIN.

I know William Shatner suffers from tinitus. His was REALLY bad before he got therapy for it. I've never found it interfering with my sleep or getting so bad that it could drive one to suicidal thoughts. But maybe I'm just used to it.

Honestly, the biggest hit I've recently taken to the hearings wasn't from music (I wear earplugs at work these days), but from THE COPS. Back when Occupy was marching in the Bay Area, one of the tactics employed by Team: Vader was to line up 4 or 5 copcycles abreast maybe 15' behind the marchers, and start blasting the protesters with sirens at top volume to drive them. I once livestreamed something like 4 minutes of sirens at close range behind a march before someone with a badge got on the loudspeaker and used his words.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:54 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was at a Nick Cave show a few years ago that was so loud that even with earplugs it made me feel dizzy and sick to my stomach. I sat in the lobby until the show was over.

It was louder than any X show, or Patti Smith, or Prince, or literally any other show I've been to in the last 12 years, and I wear earplugs at pretty much everything (unless it's Richard Thompson solo).
posted by rtha at 7:54 AM on March 15, 2013


being able to consciously turn your own tinnitus on and off

Why would you ever turn it on?
posted by DarkForest at 7:54 AM on March 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


I wonder if we'll eventually see class action lawsuits against rock clubs and concert venues like we do against tobacco companies?

In the UK at least, there are actually laws about what level of volume a venue can expose customers to. Everybody ignores it - and if you wanted to take legal action, the band's management, the venue, the promoter, the technicians, and the local authority would all able to blame each other.

My Bloody Spinal Tap are the benchmark for this nonsense - the main bloke has tinnitus himself yet still risks inflicting it on young kids.
posted by colie at 7:58 AM on March 15, 2013


All gigs should distribute earplugs at the door, or at least offer them for sale. I still use a surprisingly good pair I got given on entry to Roskilde festival 2008.
posted by knapah at 7:59 AM on March 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


If I could build a time machine, I'd go back in time and beat the "too cool for earplugs" snot out of my concert going younger self.

Of all the scars and injuries I've sustained in my various adventures and idiocy, the loss of my hearing grates on me the most. I can barely carry on a conversation in a noisy restaurant, and music doesn't sound as rich or full as it used to.

I'm only 40. Not some geezer. Wear your earplugs, kids.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:04 AM on March 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


I have to have lost some hearing from all the band practices in my teens and twenties, more so than shows. I'm grateful I don't have tinnitus or worse. Didn't get wise and start with earplugs until the last few years. I remember I was backstage in a club while another band was on, finally wearing plugs, and I could feel the pressure in my chest, even behind the mains and amp line.

The idea that bands don't rock unless amplified to dangerous levels is incredibly stupid. There is something fundamentally wrong with a concert that is dangerous to listen to.
posted by thelonius at 8:09 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Decades layer, the Who, the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Dead, Chicago, the Stones, Sly Stone (to whom happy birthday), and Ethel Merman . . . are all still in the mix that rings in my head.
posted by ahimsakid at 8:13 AM on March 15, 2013


I'm curious about this because I have recently discovered that I really really really don't like being vibrated by noise. The Chicago Airshow last summer was traumatically awesome to the extent that for weeks afterwards every time I heard a noise that sounded even remotely like the start of a jet boom I freaked out on the inside and now I can't walk under the 'L' overpasses when a train is going over because every cell in my body seems to say 'ugh' .
posted by srboisvert at 8:13 AM on March 15, 2013


I always wear ETYplugs when going to concerts. They do a pretty good job of reducing dB across all frequencies so the music sounds better than using just regular-ol-earplugs.
posted by dobi at 8:14 AM on March 15, 2013


Z. Aurelius Fraught: "Is there a term for being able to consciously turn your own tinnitus on and off? Because I have that."

If you could teach that, you'd be rich & famous.
posted by chavenet at 8:16 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


All gigs should distribute earplugs at the door, or at least offer them for sale.

I think that every venue in San Francisco that hosts live music is required by law (maybe it's just custom? but I think it's law) to offer earplugs; all the ones I go to with any regularity have them available at the coat check and/or the bar, usually for a donation of a buck. I have earplugs in nearly every jacket pocket, just in case a loud gig breaks out near me.
posted by rtha at 8:19 AM on March 15, 2013


On the ground "run ups", the prototypes could reportedly be heard 25 miles (40 km) away...The shock wave was actually powerful enough to knock a man down. XF-84H.
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 8:22 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Regular concert goers judge that the best sound balance is usually to be heard from within large concrete bunkers some thirty-seven miles away from the stage...
posted by Rock Steady at 8:28 AM on March 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


Earplugs hurt my ears (and disrupt my balance - not so useful for going to clubs where I generally want to dance) :(
posted by eviemath at 8:37 AM on March 15, 2013


Many moons ago, NIN did a short club tour just before the Downward Spiral arena tour, and at one point I had to flee the crowd because people were falling on my head and the noise was insane. I went off to the side where almost nobody was standing because you couldn't really see, and ended up standing in front of Marilyn Manson (band and man). They all had fluorescent orange earplugs in, and I thought "you know, if that's where these guys draw the line on their health and well-being...I should start wearing earplugs."
posted by Lyn Never at 8:48 AM on March 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Griphus, an audiologist can fit you for "musician's earplugs," which reduce volume without losing any of the frequencies. A music writer I know has these, and he says it's made a world of difference.
posted by Ollie at 8:49 AM on March 15, 2013


I've always done my best to use earplugs consistently during concerts and in loud factory environments, partly due to fear of hearing damage, but mostly due to having my threshold of pain set at a lower dB level than people around me seem to. I can sympathize with anyone who's got real hyperacusis -- nobody understands me either when I tell them that sound hurts, and that's at legitimately damaging levels.

I will say that there are a lot of different kinds of earplugs out there, and mileage varies on what anyone might find comfortable. My favorites are the pink-and-yellow swirl ones, as I can wear those for a 12-hour factory shift if necessary. Proper insertion's also key -- for foam ones, you want to roll the cylinder to compress it, then once you've inserted it into your ears, hold it in while it expands. You're not meant to have much of the plug sticking out of your ears. You can also tug your ear out and back while you're inserting for better fit and protection.
posted by asperity at 8:50 AM on March 15, 2013


That's interesting about earplugs being for sale at SF shows. I've been seeing live rock and roll for 30 years, mostly in the Northeast, and the first time I ever saw plugs being sold at a show was the recent A Place to Bury Strangers gig in Denver. I brought my own, thanks.
posted by scratch at 8:51 AM on March 15, 2013


I just posted a question that may be of interest to anyone else who has been made paranoid by this FPP.
posted by griphus at 8:52 AM on March 15, 2013


And it's just unconscionable that manufacturers distribute those incredibly crappy hard plastic earbuds with their expensive music players. Making the default something with better noise isolation would do a hell of a lot to preserve the hearing of millions of people.
posted by asperity at 8:52 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Custom-made earplugs can be had for those with weird earholes.
posted by scratch at 8:52 AM on March 15, 2013


Saw Gilberto Gil in a small theater a couple months ago. He's a musical legend and pushing 70. The band was mostly acoustic or acoustic/electric, and it's all good, healthy samba and bossa nova...

Holy fucking SHIT that gig was loud. I had forgotten to bring earplugs so I insisted on getting a pack at a drugstore on the way to the show, and I'm glad I did -- at one point, I pulled a plug out to test the sound and I literally couldn't distinguish the sounds from each other, it was so loud.

Seriously, what the fucking point is there to that? It's not the damn Ramones.
posted by ardgedee at 8:53 AM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


My dad has terrible hearing after a life working as a welder. He's such a pain in the ass to communicate with that he's a powerful cautionary tale. Of course, I'm almost forty now and have already subjected myself to years of loud headphone music and ridiculous concert volumes.

Sigh. I guess I'll serve as a cautionary tale to my kids.
posted by Phreesh at 8:59 AM on March 15, 2013


Related: "I've been to the quietest place on Earth."
posted by Fizz at 9:01 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


My dad refuses to blame punk rock for his tinnitus, but come on.

I was raised on loud, loud music and it's been sort of weird being married to my husband, who wasn't. On the rare occasion that I manage to drag him to a show I want to see, he's typically horrified by how loud it is and wants to leave right away. To me being smacked by that tangible wall of sound is a big part of the appeal of live shows. Well, that and violent dancing, which I am no longer allowed to do :( Being an adult is no fun sometimes.
posted by town of cats at 9:11 AM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just reading about sensory issues frightens me. These are my interfaces with the world, and I value all of them! And having a sense that actually turns on me, potentially driving me mad? What horror.

As an aside, what scares me more than auditory problems is dysosmia, wherein smells are distorted. I know of one case with a patient who perceives pretty much everything as smelling of feces. She can barely eat or function normally, is constantly checking her clothing and shoes, and is unable to detect warning aromas such as smoke or gas. She takes antidepression medication chronically and cannot bear to be around other people; from the sound of her reports she could be a suicide risk.
posted by kinnakeet at 9:22 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Can someone recommend earplugs either specifically made for live music, or particularly good for live music? Perhaps made out of some space-age material that doesn't utterly destroy the fidelity of the music?
Etymotic ER-20s do the job nicely. They also do custom-fit earplugs, but those are much more expensive.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:24 AM on March 15, 2013


I've had tinnitus for a few days because of sinus/nasal congestion, and it's certainly no fun. I can't imagine having to deal with it on a long-term basis. Hopefully I won't have to, but at 42 I'm already suffering hearing loss from concerts in my 20s, so who knows? I occasionally teach traditional college age students, and I always put in a plug for earplugs when I tell them they have to speak up if they want me to hear them. Maybe seeing me go "Huh? Could you repeat that?" all the time will give them pause.
posted by mollweide at 9:28 AM on March 15, 2013


That first article was heartbreaking.

And I've been turning my own speakers down continually as I read the articles and this thread. They weren't loud to begin with, but my ears seem to be hurting in sympathy.
posted by jaguar at 9:43 AM on March 15, 2013


My tinnitus isn't even from loud sounds, but from a series of really wicked ear infections when I was a young kid. The character of the sound is pleasant enough (it's like a very high sustained chord played on slightly raspy strings) and I've had it long enough, that it only bothers me when I'm sick or have a headache.

My girlfriend, on the other hand, has tinnitus that sounds like music, or the background sound of a busy restaurant, or human voices. Sometimes the voices annoy or scare her.
I was amazed when she explained to me that the voices were not delusions, but tinnitus, and that therefore, apparently none of the psych meds one would normally be prescribed for "hearing voices" do any good.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 10:13 AM on March 15, 2013


The violence is seemingly as essential a component to the whole thing as the sound is.

Rituals of collective destructive behavior seem to be unavoidable, every culture I know of has some variation of it. As we become more rational and safe an instinctive need to risk our health may arise.
posted by idiopath at 10:15 AM on March 15, 2013


I blew out some small part of my hearing at a show in my 20s and have been more or less an earplug wearer ever since. I hate not hearing the upper register of the music, but when it gets to what feels like the resonant frequency of my bones, it's time to put in the earplugs.

(I am not RTFA that everyone describes as heartbreaking because a lot of people I know were friends with a musician who developed a hearing problem in the months before his death. The rumor was that he killed himself because he couldn't live with it. Tragic.)
posted by immlass at 10:22 AM on March 15, 2013


My girlfriend, on the other hand, has tinnitus that sounds like music, or the background sound of a busy restaurant, or human voices. Sometimes the voices annoy or scare her. I was amazed when she explained to me that the voices were not delusions, but tinnitus, and that therefore, apparently none of the psych meds one would normally be prescribed for "hearing voices" do any good.

I have this. I'm hearing impaired (from birth, not from loud music) and sometimes when I take my hearing aids off, I hear a radio in the background. It's so convincing that I'll often put my hearing aids back in to determine if it's real. I've been told that the brain will invent sounds to fill the gap in my hearing.
posted by desjardins at 10:37 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've had tinnitus for long enough that I don't remember not having tinnitus, and never thought of it as a big deal. It's never really bugged me, except when I have a headache or I'm somewhere really lacking in ambient noise. I've kind of half-heartedly considered doing something about it every so often, but end up concluding, eh, not really worth the effort. It always shocks me when I hear about people so affected by their tinnitus that it causes severe problems with depression. I can definitely see how it would if it's affecting your sleep or hearing though.

I suppose I should at least make sure my tinnitus isn't caused by a glob of earwax stuck in there, but I've always assumed a doctor would have noticed at one of the many routine checkups/exams where they've looked in my ears.
posted by yasaman at 10:59 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


[My Bloody Valentine are] renowned for playing some of the loudest live music ever, and there's a reason to it, not just loud because loud.

I totally understand the justification for loudness as an aesthetic experience with a band like MBV, but your average bar band tends to do better with every turn closer to zero on the volume dial, not farther away from it.
posted by invitapriore at 11:26 AM on March 15, 2013


I'm doomed.
posted by capnsue at 12:02 PM on March 15, 2013


I addition to near constant tinnitus, occasional distortion at louder dbs, these weird spasm in my ear when my electric razor gets too close, I also suffer from bouts of audio hallucinations or "phantom sounds". I'll hear the phone ringing, doorbell, or even my wife calling me from the other side of the house when there's no sound there. I'm in my early 40s and wore earplugs (the rubber type with baffles) to most, but apparently not enough, of those shows.

I was relieved when it was diagnosed as a result of noise exposure from a few years in a punk band, and a couple decades of loud punk shows. My dad also suffers depression from much more severe hearing loss caused by industrial exposure. Unfortunately for him he not a candidate for a hearing aid as he has no functional level of hearing... it's either too low to hear or painfully distorted.

I wonder if there is a genetic predisposition to affects from noise exposure? Two different people exposed to the same levels of sound could be affected differently.
posted by acroyear at 12:20 PM on March 15, 2013


Mogwai was the loudest fucking concert I've ever been to.

Unlike other bands renowned for playing SUPER LOUD, they made absolute sure that the PA could handle it -- it was a deliberate aesthetic decision, albeit a painful and annoying one.
posted by schmod at 1:01 PM on March 15, 2013


Z. Aurelius Fraught: "Is there a term for being able to consciously turn your own tinnitus on and off? Because I have that."

I suspect you can turn off your perception of it. I've heard it's possible with biofeedback.

For several years I've had to run a fan at night to be able to sleep - otherwise the tinnitus drives me crazy. I used to swear I could hear piano music coming from the fan.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:28 PM on March 15, 2013


Ivor Cutler was the first artist I saw with hyperacusis. He would usually have the stage manager come out and ask people never to applaud and especially never to whistle. He would wince and buckle as if shot if loud noises happened, and I saw him leave the stage when whistling started.
posted by scruss at 5:41 PM on March 15, 2013


Vestibular responses to loud dance music: a physiological basis of the "rock and roll threshold"? (abstract)

On another note, Bach partially wrote his Goldberg Variations for Count Hermann Carl von Kaiserling and their being played at night would ease the Count's suffering from insomnia. (Blog article from googling has a source) I know someone with a neat theory that the Count had a tinnitus which was effectively masked by the common harmony - all the pieces are in the same key by virtue of their being variations.
posted by yoHighness at 6:13 PM on March 15, 2013


Seconding the ety earplugs.

I discovered that many San Francisco venues have free earplugs at the Warfield. I was looking for the best place in the venue where I could listen to the music without suffering pain and found myself with a group of a dozen or so people huddled by a door in the lobby. One of them went to the toilet and came back with a fistfull of earplugs from the coat check.

Crappy foam earplugs that muddle the highs, but better than hearing loss. Now I have a pair of ety earplugs, and I love the sensation of being in a place loud enough that my body resonates, but my ears are fine.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 6:17 PM on March 15, 2013


In college I woke up one day with ringing in my ears, and for a few days I thought it would drive me insane... but after a week or so it became an annoying but mostly ignorable condition. That was 24 years ago.

Just recently I started hearing birds and/or crickets chirping. It's still just an annoyance, though. I blame lots and lots of concerts when I was a teenager. Wear earplugs, kids.
posted by Huck500 at 6:17 PM on March 15, 2013


So... not to get weird, but if someone had such a condition, and was suicidal, which is totally understandeable as it sounds torturous, can't they do some surgery to remove hearing all together?
posted by tatiana131 at 6:21 PM on March 15, 2013


There is more than one condition that causes tinnitus. It's entirely possible that surgery to make the patient profoundly deaf could leave tinnitus as the only thing the person can hear for the rest of their life.
posted by ardgedee at 6:53 PM on March 15, 2013


20+ Ramones concerts gave me persistent, distracting tinnitus.

Worth it.

Sleeping in a quiet room can be difficult or impossible, but I can usually get relief from white noise or a radio when I wanna be sedated.
posted by ShutterBun at 7:02 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


tatiana131 - completely deaf people still have tinnitus. Tinnitus sufferers are not actually hearing a real sound, thus removing the hearing doesn't remove the sound.
posted by desjardins at 7:21 PM on March 15, 2013


OMG I have hyperacusis so bad. But this guy seems sensitive to all sounds, my case is more like Selective Sound Sensitivity Syndrome (SSSS Previously on Mefi). Some sounds just trigger me, but only certain ones. Right now, I'm in trouble at the office for complaining about noise. People complained about me complaining about noise. They don't get triggered by these sounds at all. The biggest triggers for me right now are women's boot heels clippity clopping on the linoleum floor, and one co-worker's wheezing sucking inward laugh. I try to just leave the room when they guy at my table starts chomping on an apple. Dammit chew with your mouth closed.

There is more than one condition that causes tinnitus. It's entirely possible that surgery to make the patient profoundly deaf could leave tinnitus as the only thing the person can hear for the rest of their life.

Correct. This is what my otolaryngologist told me. He told me many patients beg him to sever their auditory nerve, they would rather be deaf than listen to the tinnitus. But he says that never works. I don't understand what that's about. Apparently the new "cure" is a cochlear implant. Somehow injecting sound into the nerves in some way, deadens the sensitivity to tinnitus. But that is the preferred solution by otolaryngology surgeons, just because they like doing surgery so much. I would never let one of these guys operate on me again, that's why I have tinnitus in the first place.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:05 PM on March 15, 2013


I don't think I saw a link to this above: H.E.A.R. (Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers):
a non-profit volunteer organization dedicated to raising awareness of the real dangers of repeated exposure to excessive noise levels from music which can lead to permanent, and sometimes debilitating, hearing loss and tinnitus. Damage from loud sound can occur from playing music, attending concerts, dance clubs, raves, using stereo earphones, playing amplified systems too loudly, or other noisy activities. We're here for musicians, DJs, sound engineers, music fans (especially teens) and anyone needing help with their hearing.

H.E.A.R. got started in l988 when rock and roll musician Kathy Peck joined forces with local physican Flash Gordon, M.D. in San Francisco. After attending an excessively loud concert, Kathy and Flash decided to address the problems and dangers of loud music. As a former bass player and singer for the San Francisco rock band The Contractions, Kathy had suffered hearing damage while playing a set at the Oakland Coliseum in l984. The repeated exposure to excessive noise caused a ringing sensation in her ears called tinnitus, as well as decreasing her ability to hear. Though a professional and personal setback, the injury provided the incentive for Kathy to throw her energies in a new direction. With the help of Flash Gordon, Kathy launched H.E.A.R.
posted by Lexica at 9:22 PM on March 15, 2013


Please forgive the presumption, but I think it's pretty clear what causes the hyperacusis of victims such as Jason DiEmilio, Dietrich Hectors, and Joyce Cohen (the author of the article).

First, consider the accounts of the onset.

Jason DiEmilio:
After one show, DiEmilio started complaining he couldn't hear properly. His ears rang, but the ringing always went away, until one day it didn't. He complained of an unpleasant fullness, a pressure in his ears. He later joined a more traditional rock band, Mazarin, and while playing with them during a European tour in early 2002, he felt something happen inside his ear — something pulled, or snapped, or broke. Within two years, DiEmilio was wearing earplugs to buffer the pain, which he described as knives or screwdrivers stabbing his ears. Soon, it was difficult to listen to music at all. [emphasis added]
Dietrich Hectors:
The final, fatal dose of noise came during a friend's bachelor party; he wore earplugs during dinner and fled after a brief stop at the karaoke bar. His ears burned with a white-hot pain.
...
There is a constant feeling of pressure in my ears, like the feeling when you ride uphill-downhill in the car. If you get pressure in your ears, you swallow once and it's gone. But I can swallow a million times and this pressure does not go away.
Joyce Cohen:
My case wasn't necessarily typical — I had an instant catastrophic reaction, a sudden "event," in medical parlance. I felt something break inside my head, a descending wave of pressure. From what I can tell, I am an outlier among outliers. The severity of my reaction was completely out of proportion to the relatively low intensity of my noise exposure. [emphasis added]
And here's what Wikipedia says about a protective mechanism in the ear called the acoustic reflex:
When presented with a high-intensity sound stimulus, the stapedius and tensor tympani muscles of the ossicles contract.[1] The stapedius stiffens the ossicular chain by pulling the stapes (stirrup) of the middle ear away from the oval window of the cochlea and the tensor tympani muscle stiffens the ossicular chain by loading the eardrum when it pulls the malleus (hammer) in toward the middle ear. The reflex decreases the transmission of vibrational energy to the cochlea, where it is converted into electrical impulses to be processed by the brain. The acoustic reflex normally occurs only at relatively high intensities; activation for quieter sounds can indicate ear dysfunction.[emphasis added
The stapedius muscle
is the smallest skeletal muscle in the human body. At just over one millimeter in length, its purpose is to stabilize the smallest bone in the body, the stapes.

The stapedius emerges from a pinpoint foramen in the apex of the pyramidal eminence (a hollow, cone-shaped prominence in the posterior wall of the tympanic cavity), and inserts into the neck of the stapes.
The stapedius muscle - tiniest skeletal muscle in the body-- protects the ear by pulling the tiniest bone in the body, the stapes, out of the chain leading to the the cochlea, thereby making a gap in the transmission path of sound.

I'm convinced the snapping and breaking sensations Jason DiEmilio and Joyce Cohen experienced and possibly the white hot pain Dietrich Hectors felt were due to the final snapping of the stapedius muscle or its tendon which had been weakened by long abuse from exposure to damaging sound (somewhat analogously to the way football players can occasionally rupture the Achilles tendon).

The stapedius pulls the stapes out of the chain, so there must be elastic tissue which pulls it back when the stapes relaxes, but that means that if the stapedius breaks, the stapes is pulled tightly into the chain of transmission, and I would guess that this is what produces the sensation of pressure.

In short, these three developed hyperacusis because the connection between a stapedius muscle and its stapes broke, in my opinion. In cases where the symptoms aren't so extreme and can be partially reversed, I'd guess a stapedius muscle and tendon are irritated and stretched out, but not yet broken.

I'm not sure how novel this view really is, because again according to Wikipedia, paralysis of the stapedius due to Bell's palsy is known to produce hyperacusis:
Paralysis of the stapedius, such as in injury to the facial nerve (CN VII) distal to the geniculate ganglion prior to its branch to stapedius muscle (which would also cause Bell's Palsy), allows wider oscillation of the stapes, resulting in heightened reaction of the auditory ossicles to sound vibration. This condition, known as hyperacusis, causes normal sounds to be perceived as very loud.
posted by jamjam at 10:15 PM on March 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Rereading my first excerpt from the stapedius muscle article, I'm struck by the fact that the stapedius passes through a tiny hole (foramen) in bone between its attachment to the stapes and its point of origin.

I'd bet constant friction against the inside of that hole due to persistent activation by sound causes the stapedius to fray and ultimately snap.
posted by jamjam at 10:27 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


"His ears rang, but the ringing always went away, until one day it didn't."

Yeah, that day sucks. Protect your ears, folks.
posted by fartknocker at 10:55 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


The biggest triggers for me right now are women's boot heels clippity clopping on the linoleum floor, and one co-worker's wheezing sucking inward laugh. I try to just leave the room when they guy at my table starts chomping on an apple. Dammit chew with your mouth closed.

OMG, I have this. Eating sounds are the worst.
posted by bunderful at 7:24 AM on March 16, 2013


I don't have tinnitus to turn off, but I am able to sort of "pinch" my hearing to reduce loud sounds. Kind of like squinting at a bright light. Anyone else here do that? No one seems to know what I'm talking about if I mention it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:49 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can do this, too! It is voluntary contraction of the tensor tympani muscle and was discussed in this Ask.
posted by asperity at 8:37 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


(Doesn't really do anything much to protect your hearing from loud noises, though, any more than squinting will allow you to look at the sun safely.)
posted by asperity at 8:38 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


When the original members of Romeo Void were tracked down to perform for VH1's Bands Reuinited, original sax blower Benjamin Bossi couldn't take part in the concert because his tinitus was so bad.

He went to the reunion, but couldn't even stay in the concert hall, much less perform. He showed up with a pair of hearing protectors, but couldn't even stay in the same room as the performance and had to watch remotely on video. Felt bad for the guy.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:09 PM on March 16, 2013


The violence is seemingly as essential a component to the whole thing as the sound is.

Maybe so, but it's at least as much about catharsis, which is sometimes healing instead of self-destructive.

Hearing damage isn't about healing, however. Decent sound should be clear and loud enough to hear over a conversation, but not loud enough to cause hearing damage, which usually requires a lot of thought about speaker placement and acoustics (most venue owners could give a shit). I used to run sound for some local live gigs with subpar systems, and my experience is that a lot of gigs (even the high-dollar shows) have incompetent people working the boards. There's an unspoken belief among many that bad acoustics can be solved by enough wattage and sheer force of volume, and this belief is usually coupled with a lack of knowledge about the effects of clipping and overdriven amps and speakers. Fortunately, the quality of PA systems has improved in the last couple decades, and I'm often pleasantly surprised by how good the sound is at many live shows in comparison to a generation ago. But good sound doesn't necessarily mean it's not damaging your hearing, and sometimes it can be deceiving, because overdriven sound is often more easily identified as unpleasant by concertgoers.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:27 PM on March 16, 2013


Tinnitus is really quite poorly understood, and there's a lot we simply don't know.

What does seem clear is that tinnitus is most often caused by noise-induced hearing loss or presbycusis (age-induced hearing loss). A really loud concert or noise event by itself usually will not cause tinnitus. Going to a concert every now and again will cause generally only Temporary Threshold Shift, which we've all experienced, and resolves itself. Loud noises over time, however, seem to degrade the Outer Hair Cells of the cochlea permanently, which seems to cause tinnitus.

Hearing is not a passive process, that's the thing. When you take in sound waves, hair cells in your cochlea respond according to the frequency of the sound. They literally get longer when you hear things in order to open up ion channels that convert mechanical energy into electrical energy. The degree of their response is partially correlated to intensity. So if you subject your outer hair cells to loud sounds with some frequency, you will quite literally wear them out.

Which brings me to this - tinnitus is a problem with sensorineural hearing - not conductive. This means its caused by problems in the cochlea, not the ossicular chain (three little tiny bones in your middle ear). You should wear ear plugs, because that will greatly reduce the intensity of the waves reaching the cochlea, but bear in mind that those long waves from super-bass speakers at concerts are going right through your head as well and you're getting a lot of sensory input into your cochlea just by bone conduction. So the ear plugs will help but they won't save you. Your best bet is to not go to super loud concerts.

Tinnitus sufferers are not actually hearing a real sound, thus removing the hearing doesn't remove the sound.

They are definitely hearing a sound. If you hear sounds that aren't actually there, that's a psychological problem. Tinnitus is a hearing problem. The thing about your ear is that it makes noise as well as absorbs it. It's called otoacoustic emissions. It's caused by the movements of the hair cells in the cochlea. Tinnitus is probably caused by otoacoustic emissions by damaged hair cells.

Theoretically, you could end tinnitus by removing the cochlea completely. This would have all sorts of other problems though.

I'd bet constant friction against the inside of that hole due to persistent activation by sound causes the stapedius to fray and ultimately snap.

Tinnitus is sensorineural, so it isn't caused by the stapedius snapping. That "snapping" sound people hear is more likely to be an otoacoustic emission. You get tinnitus in your cochlea, from your cochlea - it's all post-conductive, so the ossicles in your middle ear probably don't play any role at all. A middle ear bone breaking is probably the rarest cause of hearing loss, behind noise-induced, cerumen build-up, age, and diseases that affect the tympanic membrane (eardrum).

The biggest triggers for me right now are women's boot heels clippity clopping on the linoleum floor, and one co-worker's wheezing sucking inward laugh. I try to just leave the room when they guy at my table starts chomping on an apple. Dammit chew with your mouth closed.

OMG, I have this. Eating sounds are the worst.


This is called misophonia, not tinnitus or hyperacusis.

Hyperacusis occurs when sounds normally heard as bearable become very painful. It is an auditory processing disorder, not a hearing disorder per se. Loudness is not intensity of a sound - dB is an objective measure but loudness is merely a psychological correlate, and people with hyperacusis have a sense of loudness that is out of whack (and very difficult to treat).

I don't have tinnitus to turn off, but I am able to sort of "pinch" my hearing to reduce loud sounds

Yeah, this is common. Someone upthread mentioned it, but it's the acoustic reflex. Your ear can do it to help reduce the intensity of sounds. Your ear actually greatly multiplies the intensity of sounds you hear before the waves get to the cochlea to overcome the impedance mismatch between the air and the fluid in the cochlea, and your ear can reduce the amount of this multiplier to protect itself to a degree.

Lastly but most importantly folks - tinnitus can be caused by serious things - like brain tumors or cancer in your ear. If you have tinnitus, go see your doctor to make sure it's just some hearing loss.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:51 PM on March 18, 2013


Napalm death V&A gig cancelled over gallery damage fear: The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) has cancelled a Napalm Death concert over fears the high decibel levels could damage the "fabric of the building".
posted by homunculus at 10:50 AM on March 20, 2013


The NYT's Well Blog ran an article today titled What Causes Hearing Loss.
posted by desjardins at 2:23 PM on March 25, 2013


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