Loud music and ear ringing?

1) Dear Alice,

I went to a club one night and the music was really loud. I've been going to clubs for a while now and the loud music usually makes my ears ring, but the ringing usually disappears in the morning. Well, this time, the ringing has lasted for several days. Is this a problem I should be worried about?

2) Dear Alice,

I have a question for you. I am a DJ and every Saturday I work in a disco. After doing this for some days, I can hear a noise in my ears (especially in the one where I wear the headphone). Is this dangerous? How may I help it?

— Frightened

Dear Reader and Frightened, 

Good vibes, good music… but oh, that ringing sound is annoying… ugh. The ringing, buzzing, hissing, or clicking you're both hearing may be a case of tinnitus, which can come and go, or it may be continuous. Tinnitus is a sign that your auditory system isn’t working as intended. This system includes your ear, the auditory nerve connecting your inner ear to your brain, and the parts in your brain that process sound. Repeated exposure to loud noises, such as noisy clubs, over a long period of time may further exacerbate tinnitus and lead to permanent hearing loss. Given the fact that the ringing has lasted for several days (for both of you), it may be a good idea to get it checked out. A medical professional may be able to tell you more definitively what is causing the ringing in your ears and provide options for treatment. As a compliment to seeking medical care, it may also be good to learn a bit more about what the buzz in your ears is all about. 

In general, about one in five people experience tinnitus. Tinnitus can be caused by certain medical conditions/diseases (i.e., diabetes, head/neck trauma), medications (i.e., diuretics, antidepressants), and even wax buildup in the ears. One of the more notable and preventable causes, however, is exposure to loud noise. Although one night of loud music may not result in immediate effects, temporary hearing loss can occur and make it harder to hear sounds in the future. Over time, jammin’ to high-volume tunes on a regular basis can damage sensory structures in the inner ear. These sensory structures, called hair cells, convert sounds into electrical signals sent to your brain where they are then interpreted and identified. Tinnitus occurs when these hair cells are damaged and begin to "leak” the electrical impulses to your brain, causing the ringing sound you both are experiencing. Once these hair cells are damaged, they can no longer conduct sound efficiently and new ones won’t grow back in their place. 

However, protecting your hearing doesn't necessarily mean staying out of the clubs forever. Earplugs or earmuffs can protect your ears against loud noises. Sure, it may not seem as cool to be wearing them, but at the end of the night (or... er, morning) your ability to hear may be better as compared to other club-goers. Frightened by the idea? Here are a few additional questions for you to consider: Would it be possible for you to wear earplugs along with your headphones as a way to muffle the music from both the speakers and headset? Would cranking the volume down a couple of notches detract from the event? Could you use some pre-set playlists to reduce your need for cueing through your headphones? You both might also consider how to determine safe volume levels as well. For instance, if you have to shout over a noise even though you’re at arm's length from someone, it probably means that the noise could damage your hearing. 

While avoiding loud noises and wearing earplugs can help protect your ears, a few other tips that can help you both manage your tinnitus are: 

  • Improving circulation by being active daily. 
  • Checking your blood pressure and talking to your health care provider if it’s high. 
  • Getting enough quality sleep to ward off fatigue. 
  • Steering clear or reduce intake of alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine. 
  • Incorporating stress management strategies in your day-to-day. 
  • Trying to ignore the ringing sound as much as you can (using a fan or white noise machine may help mask the sound). 

All in all, discussing this matter with an ear specialist, such as an otologist or otolaryngologist, can help you with ideas about how to protect your ears or deal with the ringing. To learn more about tinnitus and hearing loss, check out the American Academy of Otolaryngology for additional resources. 

Hear's to vibing with the vibrations, 

Last updated Aug 06, 2021
Originally published Mar 22, 1996

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