by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.

A man wrote:

I’m curious about some increased ringing in my ears and a peculiar off again, on again, sensation that is quite distressing, namely when I am at work, if I open a map for instance (I work with maps all day), just the process of opening the maps, can give me a harsh metallic tinny noise in my ears, particularly my right ear. A similar feeling occurs when I lay a pen down on a glass surface or even sometimes when I am typing on the keyboard. This might go on for a day with my ears feeling stopped up somewhat, and then it will disappear and the next day I will be fine.

What you are describing sounds like recruitment kicking in. Recruitment is a by-product of sensorineural hearing loss, and makes you perceive normal sounds are louder (harsher) than normal. Since you have a high frequency hearing loss (to whatever degree), because of recruitment, you now perceive the high-frequency component of the sounds the maps make, the high-frequency component of the sound of the pen clinking on glass and also the high-frequency component of the keyboard clicks, or your fingernails on the keyboard—not at their normal level—but as much louder than normal. Thus, they sound harsh. If you have severe recruitment, they can sound so loud that they will hurt.

When your ears are feeling stopped up, you are experiencing additional hearing loss—and with the extra hearing loss, your recruitment would be kicking in worse, hence the annoying component to everyday sounds.

You need to try and figure out what is causing the stopped-up feeling by reviewing the sounds you exposed your ears to the previous day. No doubt, you are listening to something louder/longer than your ears like.

The man then asked, “Do you think it is safe to continue to wear earbuds while listening to audio books on my iPod for an hour or so a day? Are the deep in the ear ones a better choice because the volume doesn’t have to be turned up as loud?”

It doesn’t really matter what kind of earphones or earbuds you use with your iPod—the key is to keep the volume at a comfortable level. Those deep in the ear ones require less volume—that is true—but only because they are closer to the eardrum. In actual fact they vibrate your eardrums just as much as any other earbuds IF you set the volume so that what you hear sounds to you to be at the same level.

Note: you will not hurt your ears if you listen to your iPod (no matter what kind of earbuds you use) at approximately the same level as you hear people around you talking—so that is a good rule of thumb to follow.