by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A lady wrote:
I have an iPod. Music on the iPod sounds very good to me. The other day I downloaded many tunes from the iTune Store and was excited about being able to listen to all the oldies from the 50’s. I did a lot of listening with ear buds that day. The next day I listened to my down loaded tunes and I was disappointed. Everything had an extra edge to it; hard to describe but sort of like static and raspy. Real speech sounded that way to me as well. My ears felt like they had weights in them. I had more ringing in the ears than usual, the aids felt like ear plugs and I took them out. Ordinarily I don’t feel them in my ears at all. This condition went on for about a week and I was very discouraged. What is going on? Does listening to music with headphones or ear buds for too long bring this on?
You are right—too much of a good thing ends up being a bad thing, especially if you are listening to the music at louder volumes. Sustained louder sounds such as you would experience when listening to music with the volume up causes noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
In fact you describe 3 of thee classic symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss.
First, you have the “plugged up” feeling. You describe it as your ears feeling “like they had weights in them” and “my hearing aids felt like ear plugs”. This muffled hearing is a sign that you have had the volume too loud for too long. You are now experiencing some degree of temporary hearing loss—what doctors call a temporary threshold shift. This makes everything sound muffled, or as though you are hearing through a fog. The more often you expose your ears to loud sounds, the longer this threshold shift will last, until finally you will be left with further permanent hearing loss.
Second, you have increased tinnitus. As you say, “I had more ringing in my ears than usual.” Any sounds that cause your ears to ring (or your existing ringing to get louder) indicates that you are exposing your ears to damaging levels of sound. This tinnitus is your first warning that the sound is too loud—so you need to immediately turn the volume down and/or give your ears a rest.
Third, you have distorted hearing, which you describe as “everything had an extra edge to it; hard to describe but sort of like static and raspy”.
The good news is that if you give your ears a rest from all loud sounds, often your hearing will go back to normal and the ringing and distortion will disappear too. In this case, it took your ears a whole week. That is quite long. Often it only takes minutes to a few hours. As I said, the more often your ears are exposed to loud sounds, the longer it takes them to recover. I’d be very careful in the future, because one day if you keep on listening to music at that volume and for extended periods, these symptoms will never go away—and you do not want that!