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I've Listened to Loud Rock Music All My Life. Now My Hearing Is Paying the Price (wbur.org)
77 points by ilamont 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 66 comments

Protect your hearing before it's too late. We often think that the worse that will happen is that you'll lose a bit of hearing and be hard of hearing when you get older. If that's all you get, consider yourself lucky.

What could happen to you is that your hearing apparatus gets damaged to the point of getting permanent severe tinnitus and hyperacusis. These are not mild conditions - they are life changing conditions that bring people to the brink of suicide.

To give you an idea of how serious it is, it is just second to Chronic Pain in terms of suicide ideation in the population, and higher than Parkinsons', Insomnia, and advanced cancer. See https://journals.lww.com/thehearingjournal/Fulltext/2016/070...

Tinnitus has no cure and no viable treatment other than mind-related techniques to help you cope: there is no way to lessen the symptoms. It is a terrible predicament to be put in, and if you are unlucky enough to suffer from a severe version of it, it can easily take away your ability to think, socialize, and sometimes perform basic tasks.

Unfortunately, protecting your hearing isn't sufficient to dodge tinnitus & hyperacusis: there are other ways that can lead to it, such as ototoxic medications, ear infections or other ear conditions such as otosclerosis, cholesteatoma, etc. Still, it's your best line of defense, as one of the biggest causes for Tinnitus is noise induced hearing loss. Please take it seriously.

another one is sudden hearing loss. I wish google searches for sudden hearing loss would have an explicit warning to get to an ER immediately.

it seems most gps don't know about the condition, and on their advice I waited until about a week after. Now I'm permanently deaf in one ear, with severe tinnitus.

Indeed, I did forget SSNHL. Sorry that you were victim of that.

At one week after onset you were still in the treatment window, but unfortunately it doesn't always work (and obviously, the sooner the better - but my surgeon told me he's seen cases as late as 2 months recover after treatment).

I imagine you got steroids prescribed? Oral or intratympanic?

I've had tinnitus since I was a teenager (from doing stupid teenage antics). Its not loud enough to be mentally troubling except when I convince myself its getting worse. It tends to go away when I'm concentrating, which I suppose is why I like programming so much.

I really hope there is a cure one day.

One comment to add from someone who _didn't_ lose all his hearing and can still eavesdrop on things. I worked in a plastic factory for ten years. They issued free earplugs and free headphones to wear over the earplugs if you wanted. They trained repeatedly on proper earplug insertion (pull up the top of your ear so your ear canal is straight, insert till flush with pinna, wait for foam to expand). They had a hearing acuity screen every six months and gave everyone a break to go sit in the van.

Expecting young people to make individually good decisions based on advice from old people has limited reach. It's no substitute for a culture and regulations that make hearing protection easy and normative in the contexts where it's most needed. I don't know if we could create that culture for loud music concerts, but it would be a good cause.

Worked as a roady for a band in high school. Worked in the holds of ships and in engine rooms and around other very loud equipment as a young adult. Never wore hearing protection nor did anyone ever suggest I wear it. At 58 I now have pretty constant tinitus in both ears. Fortunately it doesn't really bother me much. If you're young and work around loud equipment wear the plugs. And brush your teeth and floss twice a day :).

I'd say hearing protection is more important than brushing your teeth. You can get artificial teeth that look and function just like real ones, but not ears.

It's funny that this popped up because I just got home from watching Captain Marvel. I know I have at least some tinnitus because my world sounds like the descriptions of it, but it's not so bad that it really affects my hearing. That said, I have noticed that some movies--particularly Marvel explosion ones in IMAX--sound much louder to me in my mid-30s. The higher sounds come across to me as sharp or shrill.

One nice thing about going everywhere with a backpack is I'm used to having earbuds with me so now, I just don't take them out of my ears when I get to a movie. I still hear everything and it doesn't sound muffled, merely...turned down, I guess, to a "good" volume.

I first hit on this when I forgot to take my earbuds out prior to, of all things, a Weird Al concert (his "Vanity" tour at The Moore in Seattle). I'd ridden the bus down there and had VIP tickets for the pre-show stuff so I sat and watched it with my earbuds in for listening to his music during the lulls in the pre-show activities. When Emo Phillips started, I forgot to take them out and realized after the show that my ears weren't ringing (louder than usual) and I didn't have the beginnings of a headache.

We went to an early Sunday matinee of a kids movie and the sound was unnaturally loud so we asked the attendant and they said: "Oh yeah, we had it turned up for Captain Marvel last night. We'll go turn it down."

So, at least anecdotally you're not wrong about the superhero and big-budget action movies being louder.

One nice thing about going everywhere with a backpack is I'm used to having earbuds with me.

For anyone else that doesn't want to carry a backpack, a set of earplugs fits great in the coin pouch of a wallet, or attached as a keychain.

A good set of concert earplugs are like $15, everyone should have them. I also find occasionally if I'm in a loud restaurant, they help drown out the people talking obnoxiously loudly and I can actually hear the people I want to.

I usually take my earplugs to the movies now, mostly for the trailers. It seems like they're always mixed much louder than the actual movie I'm going to see, and trailers contain every explosion the movie they're showing has.

I do this too.

I will often work with my earbuds in with nothing playing just because of the slight noise dampening effect. It's usually just enough.

My hearing isn't terrible, but in noisy restaurants I have a hard time following conversations. I get tinnitus regularly (not constant) now too.

I've listened to a bunch of concerts and nightclubs, but I think its sitting behind the computer for 40 hours/week with headphones on that really killed my hearing. It doesn't have to be so loud, just combined with lots of hours each day isn't good.

I've started getting regular hearing tests and cut back headphones to a few hours a week, but I miss the music.

Don't overdo the headphones!!

Concert earplugs might help a bit in noisy restaurants. I have a set of Etymotics that I like.

But then how can you follow conversations? Do they somehow only block background noise?

Concert earplugs are designed to reduce the sound level, but without muffling any frequency ranges like foam earplugs do.

Somewhat related but I’ve always been curious about this: Why is music more pleasurable to many of us when played at a level that could damage our hearing? If I listen to my death metal playlists at only half volume I don’t find it nearly as enjoyable, and I’ve never totally understood why.

I have recently read a pretty resourceful thread on music mixing and recording (https://forum.cockos.com/showthread.php?t=29283).

A related piece of info from there is that rock/metal music is supposed to be loud: drums blasting away, amps cranked up. But when recording and mixing you take all that loud sound and energy and put it into an audio file that will most likely be played back with lower volumes on all kinds of devices.

This is one of the main problems of mixing this kind of music: making music that is supposed to be LOUD sound good at low volumes. So probably if that goal isn't achieved in a perfect way then cranking the volume up will make it sound better.

Another important thing I learned from that thread is that in general for us humans "louder" is perceived as "better". Good example, a demonstration of a compressor plugin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6D9WvwMNr8

Plugin quality aside, you can easily hear that "on" parts are all louder than "off" parts, and that really makes the demo "unfair" in that they sound better simply by being louder.

And a related theory I've read long ago (sorry, don't remember where) is that experiencing music at damaging volumes gives us some kind of masochistic pleasure. This is why there are always people hanging right next to speakers at loud shows, be it rock or EDM.

> gives us some kind of masochistic pleasure

I could see this being the case, sort of like how some people (me) enjoy torturing themselves with extremely spicy peppers and foods.

The Fletcher-Munson Curve

https://ehomerecordingstudio.com/fletcher-munson-curve/ breaks down how this affects your perception of music based on how loud it is. In the instance of that link, it's in regards to mixing recorded music, but it's apparent anytime you're listening to audio.

It's a perception thing. As the "Loudness War" shows, music sounds "better" when it's louder; it's something about how humans perceive sound. Of course, this is problematic because for long-term exposure, it doesn't have to be all that loud to cause permanent hearing loss. It's largely cumulative, sort of like radiation exposure.

Because sound is not just a hearing experience, it's a feeling/body experience. Just stand in front of a massive sub stack to understand that. I know it's loud enough when my nose starts vibrating. With my earplugs in, of course.

Probably for the same reason binging anything is pleasurable. You can dissociate and transcend the boundaries of your baseline level of consciousness.


I remember going to a rock festival in Sweden around 2001 and telling people they were being stupid for wearing earplugs. Enjoy the moment, I told people. Listen to the music raw and unfiltered. This is rock music!

I was young, stupid and wrong.

I'm 40 now and I have pretty much continuous tinnitus.

Protect your ears, people.

Same here, but playing in a band instead of just going to see them. Heavy metal, small practice space. Heavy-handed drummer. I too thought earplugs were “lame”, but eventually got sick of not being able to hear for 4 hours after band practice.

Today, my right ear “cringes” (only word I can use to describe the feeling) when anything loud like a restroom hand-dryer goes off for more than a few seconds.

I wear earplugs to all concerts now.

Diy warehouse punk and metal scene here. Made fun of kids for wearing earplugs, now tinnitus for me. Sooo punk :(

I'm 29 and have mild tinnitus. In my case, I'm fortunate that it's only noticeable in a nearly silent room. Even a fan is enough to make it disappear.

That said, it's still scared me. I'm convinced it came from years of listening to music loudly on headphones. I discovered quality headphones as a teenager, probably when I was 16 or so, and remember being blown away by the fidelity of the sound.

Late last year I decided to invest in a more expensive speaker setup for my home PC, and I've tried to commit myself to using it over headphones and only at a reasonable volume. The latter I find is self-enforced easily by my being in an apartment complex. I went with the Audioengine A5+ speakers and their associated subwoofer. Combined, it was more than twice what I'd paid for headphones in the past, but overall I've been extremely impressed. The speakers produce a clarity that is similar to what I'm used to with headphones, and they're actually much better at producing a wide sound stage.

Yeah, I'm in my 50s and the audiologist describes my hearing loss as "severe to profound," depending on the frequency range. I suspect that much of that was at one particular concert after which my ears rang for three days. I definitely lost a lot that time, but there was a lot of other loud music over the years, too.

My hearing when I was a kid was as good as my mom's. She's a musician and has always protected her hearing. She's in her 80s and has far better hearing than me.

You will never regret taking a bit of extra effort to protect your hearing. It's never too late to start, either.

I frequently go to stupid loud EDM shows.. I’m very curious what will happen to my generation since even with earplugs my ears can be funny after shows, probably from all the sub bass (which is much more prominent than at rock shows).

I try to compensate by pretty much never listening to music otherwise, but I feel like I’m going to be struggling in 20 years.

You will feel dumb, not because of the music, that of course, but also, you will feel dumb as you have to keep asking people to repeat themselves, as you realize you're the one smiling and nodding without understanding, as you're watching movies with the closed captioning on, etc.

I was born with bad hearing and tinnitus. When I tell people, some are quick to blame attending loud concerts, but I don't think I've attended more than a couple concerts and none were particularly loud. Plus, I had both problems well before the earliest concern I can recall attending.

Some advice: How loud flying is doesn't seem to be appreciated. I don't see any mention of it in the comments here, and when I fly I am one of the few with any hearing protection as far as I can tell. I wear both earplugs and earmuffs. Don't laugh too hard. I've found both to be noticeably better than either alone. I used to fly with nothing, but my tinnitus would be amplified for days after flying. Aside from some people on the plane thinking that I'm weird, I once had a TSA guy ask me if I intended to go shooting when he saw my earmuffs.

I think I've accepted my tinnitus and bad hearing for the most part. It rarely bothers me, and to be honest I sometimes find the tinnitus to be soothing. I think that's because I never knew any different. Tinnitus is the sound of silence to me. I speculate that others who develop these conditions later might feel some loss that I don't.

Someone on a flight once explained to me that the noise on an airplane is a large factor of why flying makes you tired: your brain is constantly processing all that background noise and looking for patterns in it. Since then I've always worn earplugs on flights, and usually also big over-the-ear headphones over them (just turn the volume up slightly higher). It's been a big improvement in flying comfort.

I totally understand, I've got hearing damage and can't hear in a room with multiple conversations ongoing (i.e. a restaurant).

In my case, it was operating a stump grinder that did it. I was so eager to operate this cool power equipment that I didn't take a few minutes to get hearing protection. Big, big mistake.

Please take care of your hearing.

Somehow I got tinnitus in one ear, and I didn't even go to any concerts. Maybe headphones on too loud. None the less, a friend got me to try on a set of Nuraphones, which I think are supposed to gauge how responsive your nervous system is to sound, and surely enough I had lost a fair bit of high frequency sensitivity.

A word of caution on this - I too have some tinnitus, and I asked Lauren Dragan (she does all of Wirecutter’s headphone reviews) on Twitter if she was going to review these headphones. She responded[1]:

> I’ve tested a few pairs of those kinds of headphones already, actually. Even, Beyerdynamic, Nuraphone, MEE... if you have ok hearing, they aren’t worth it, and possibly problematic if you already have hearing damage.

> I’d spoken to an audiologist who is an expert in noise induced hearing loss, and he said that with no AMA oversight, there is no way of knowing if the raised frequency ranges could cause more damage on top of existing. The accuracy of the tests and programs on these vary wildly.

In other words, by boosting the volume of the ranges you’re having difficulty hearing, it might actually increase your hearing loss in those ranges. I’m not an audiologist, but that makes a lot of sense. I’m steering clear of this class of headphones until there’s more known about them.

[1] https://mobile.twitter.com/larrywright/status/10048423527777...

When I tried the adjusted volume version of the higher frequencies, I didn't like it anyway heh.

I've got bad hearing in my left ear which I attribute to the pickup I drove when a young man. It was a 1964 Chevy, and the rubber gaskets around the window panes in the doors were totally shot. I had cut holes and installed speakers in the lower portion of the doors.

The speaker in the driver's door caused that window pane to vibrate in my left ear.

You can also get tinnitus from antibiotic side effects and autoimmune disorders.

Damn that's sad. I have found that if you keep headphones at the same volume, your hearing does not suffer. Always fix the noise isolation of the headphones or change your surroundings before just turning up the volume.

Lots of comments about ear-plugs for concerts and such. I'd like to remind every motorcycle rider to buy them too! Especially if you're riding a naked bike. Going moderately high speed on a highway for two hours made my ears ring for another couple of hours after I reached the destination.

There are special ear plugs for riders too, that would cut out the wind noise, while you're still able to hear your engine, other occupants of the road and comms inside helmet if you do ride with intercom.

As an aging guitarist, I've become more serious about my hearing after I learned that I've lost everything above 12.5k. I've switched to an IEM system live, using a Kemper full-time for my "cranked amp" sound, and always having earplugs and backups in the truck and at concerts. Nothing's worth losing any more frequencies. I hardly break 80-85db anymore.

Yes. Take steps to protect your ears. I played drums for years as a kid without them and I have permanent tinnitus. Fortunately it’s not a dominating presence, but I can always hear when it’s quiet around me. It has stayed at same level for 15+ years because I started managing it - basically wearing ear plugs to concerts / playing drums and keeping my ear phones to lowest level possible.

Does anyone know which frequencies are the worst for your ears? I'm under the assumption that mid and high level frequencies do the most damage, with low frequencies doing the least. I would like to know the answer and stand corrected.

When I was 13, I used to wear a shirt that said "If it's too loud, you're too old!"

...lol, yeah well now I take care of my ears. 13 year old me played Slipknot as loud as possible and thought I was impressing everyone around me.

cringecringe yeahyeah

I sometimes I play music with rock stars in their 70s. They are freekin deaf. Now I think "if it's not loud enough, you're not old enough".

I guess that's why Lars thinks Death Magnetic sounds just fine and can't hear all the horrible clipping.

I’m 26 and I already have some tinnitus and I feel like some hearing loss. I’ve listened to loud music since high school every day.

Is it too late for me? Would my hearing recorder if I gave it a break?

Going deep in the woods and being able to hear the smallest details all around is more important to me than appearing tough to at a loud concert.

If you get tinnitus and hearing loss in your 20s, is it possible to reverse any of the damage, or is it permanent?

I’ve had tinnitus since my 20’s from playing in bands and going to rock shows. 25+ years later, I still have it. It’s quiet enough in here right now that I can hear it as I type this.

I think its permanent. I'm not aware of tinnitus ever getting better for people.

There -may- be improvement through notched listening.


> TMNMT affected tinnitus loudness after 6 months but it was shown to be superior to the placebo condition after 12 months.

> Taken together, our results display a positive effect of three months of TMNMT on the subjective tinnitus perception, especially concerning tinnitus loudness.

But it's one of those things that definitely needs more study.

Probably not until someone figures our artificial ear neural implants.

The Capitals in The Title Give a Rather Ironic Impression of Loudness

> I always come prepared, with custom-made ear plugs that filter highs and lows equally. Protective preparation be damned, they played for 75 minutes and my ears rang for days.

That's what you get for using boutique plugs instead of the good old cheap foam ones that do -30 dB.

Flat frequency attenuation ... for a rock concert?

Okay, first of all, due to the Fletcher Munson curves, the perception of bass versus treble is affected by volume. If you want to hear the proper amount of bass that you're supposed to hear at concert volume, but at a lower volume, you in fact need to attenuate the highs more; certainly not flat attenuation.

Why not use wine corks for ear plugs; then you can literally do cork sniffing before putting them in.

These are what I use, https://www.etymotic.com/consumer/hearing-protection/er20.ht...

They're pretty good, not perfect. They remove the screechy it's too loud feeling I get at concerts but there is a little degradation in sound quality.

I saw Motorhead about 10 years ago with the cheap foam ones and my ears were still ringing the next day. And Lemmy warned us it would be loud. The volume some bands play at is astounding, and foam plugs, full-ear headphones (like the kind Roger Miller used to use when playing for Mission of Burma back in the 80s) and other devices may only be of limited use.

I read somewhere that The Who played an outdoor concert in London in the 70s that was so loud fish in a nearby park went belly-up in the ponds they inhabited. I wonder how the kids at that show are faring now, hearing-wise.

> I wonder how the kids at that show are faring now, hearing-wise.

My dad is suffering terribly from tinitus he attributes to a Rolling Stones concert where he was right up next to the speakers. He says the frequency loss lines right up with a howling guitar solo.

I would say they are not faring very well.

> Okay, first of all, due to the Fletcher Munson curves, the perception of bass versus treble is affected by volume.

This is one reason using dBA for everything is silly. They work at about 60dB SPL. They used to have a dB(B) for about 80dB, and then you use dBC for levels above 100dB. Even worse, dBA as a measure for sound limits for heavy machinery, which is a complete abuse, as this hides the power of lower and higher frequencies, and hearing damage is not interested in hearing sensitivity.

I have worn all types of earplugs at concerts, playing music etc. and the flat attenuation 'botique' moulded ones sound so much better for any situation, it's not even close. If the concert really is loud enough that 25dB isn't enough attenuation maybe it's not worth going. If something is loud enough, no earplugs will make it safe.

You're not making a level-matched A/B comparison. That's like mistake #1 of audio engineering. Louder sounds better; plugs that attenuate -25 dB will sound better than -32 dB.

No, I am comparing cheaper types of plugs with the more expensive ones, with similar levels of attenuation. You are thinking of a quite subtle effect which can lead you to think louder sounds are better, when they are actually the same apart from the volume. The difference between the sound of different types of earplugs is _massive_. There is no mistaking the difference.

I belatedly (47 years old, been playing bands all my life) got the moulded ones last year and they're amazing for shows. I suspect it's because all the sound engineers are wearing them too

You're not even sitting in the box where the sound engineers are tweaking the mixing board. Every location in the hall sounds a bit different.

Boutique plugs sound better because they attenuate less. Louder sounds better.

A fair A/B comparison of two audio signals requires them to be level-matched. When two samples are being compared, where one is louder, listeners will tend to be biased toward preferring the louder one.

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