by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.

A man wrote:

I do not expose myself to high noise levels either in my occupation or leisure. I do not listen to iPods etc. However, 5 days ago after a night out, when leaving a bar with loud music, my hearing felt dull. While my hearing appears normal, I now have a feeling of fullness and a constant ringing. I have scared myself silly reading all the forums and panicking that after 5 days, this may be permanent. Has tinnitus been known to go after 5 days?

I’d call going to nightclubs exposing your ears to loud sounds in your leisure time. You may have been exposing your ears to more loud sounds than you realize.

The feeling of fullness you are experiencing is actually indicative of a temporary threshold shift. In other words you do have a hearing loss significant enough that your brain notices it—thus you get this “blocked” feeling. The constant ringing (tinnitus) is another sign that the noise was far too loud, and you exposed your ears for far too long.

I’m glad you have “scared yourself silly”. Hopefully, you will now carefully protect your ears in the future. Too bad you hadn’t done that before. At the very least, have some foam ear protectors in your pocket, and put them in your ears before you go into noisy places, or leave as soon as the racket gets too loud.

Now to explain about tinnitus and whether it will go away. Typically the way it works is that the first few times you expose your ears to loud sounds the tinnitus goes away reasonably rapidly—hours or a day or so—but the more you expose your ears to loud sounds (and the louder the sounds are), the longer it takes for the tinnitus to go away. Finally, if you don’t wise up and protect your ears, it will never go away.

I doubt this was your first time in a night club, so I fear you have been exposing your ears to excessive noise for some time.

The main thing now is not to expose your ears to any louder sounds in order to give them time to “heal” if they will. After a month or so, re-evaluate your tinnitus and see whether it has gone away. In the meantime don’t dwell on your tinnitus or it will only appear to get worse. You need to totally ignore it by focusing on the loves of your life and let the tinnitus fade into the background.

In a month or so, it wouldn’t hurt to go to an audiologist and have a complete audiological evaluation to see the state of your hearing. That way you’d know if there was any permanent damage. I wouldn’t go now—give your ears time to recover, and hopefully the temporary threshold shift will go away.