by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A young man (25 years old) wrote:
I typically listen to loud music in my car on my ride to work and home for a period of 45-60 minutes each day. Usually after listening to the music my ears feel blocked and muffled for a few minutes. Occasionally my ears ring, maybe 3 times a month. Ten days ago I was riding in my friend’s car that is equipped with two subwoofers and an amplifier located in the trunk. I was sitting in the back seat close to the subwoofers listening to loud bass that was vibrating my ear drums to the point that it was giving me pain. I don’t know the exact sound level, but it must have been at least 100 dB since it was shaking and vibrating my ear drums as well as the whole car.
The next morning I woke up with the feeling that my ear was plugged. My ears rang briefly, but I haven’t heard the ringing since. I noticed that I could not make out some words during normal conversation. When I listen to the radio, I can only hear it with one of my ears, and it seems that I can’t hear high pitched sounds in the affected ear any more.
I have trouble hearing conversation in my left ear in a crowded area like a mall. I have to constantly tell people to repeat themselves to make out certain words. It feels like my ear is constantly plugged up. It has been 10 days now and it has not improved.
I fear that I now have a unilateral hearing loss. Is there any way I can regain my hearing, or will I have to deal with this for the rest of my life? I hope there can still be treatment other than a hearing aid.
Do you think steroid treatment is still an option or have my hair cells been permanently destroyed? These past 10 days have been very difficult for me. It is starting to affect my personal life from music to talking on the telephone to watching television.
After your ride to work each day, you noticed your ears felt plugged up and sounds were muffled. This is called a temporary threshold shift. This is a warning to you that you are damaging your ears from loud sounds.
Listening to music at this volume is not a smart thing to do. After the episode in your friend’s car 10 days ago, the excessive sound levels (I figure more like 120 dB or higher) has left you with a permanent threshold shift. In other words, I fear you now have permanent hearing loss—likely in both ears—but obviously worse in your left ear.
Unfortunately, you’ve wasted 10 precious days without getting effective treatment. The window for effective treatment for noise-induced hearing loss is only a day or two, so likely there isn’t much that can be done now. You need to protect your ears from loud sounds in the future as they are now going to be even more sensitive to noise damage than they were in the past.
Wear ear plugs if the sound is going to be louder than 85 dB or so. I wouldn’t be surprised if the sound you were listening to—at the point of pain—would have been up around 120 to 130 dB. At 120 dB, the safe time exposure is only 4 seconds. At 130 dB, that drops to a minuscule 1/4 of a second!
I’d suggest you go to an audiologist and have a complete audiological evaluation. That way you will know how bad your hearing is–and it may be in both ears too—although one is obviously worse than the other.
When you expose your ears to loud sounds, free radicals are formed in your inner ears. These free radicals zap the cells in your inner ears. Any cells that are fatally damaged go into a process called apotosis—in which they systematically shut down and die. Thus, you have to zap the free radicals before they do their dastardly deeds.
The best way to zap free radicals is with powerful antioxidants. Glutathione is considered the most powerful natural antioxidant there is. Your body makes this antioxidant naturally from compounds such as N-Acetyl-Cysteine and D-methionine which in turn are made from three amino acids—cysteine, glycine and glutamic acid.
When your ears need extra help, taking N-Acetyl-Cysteine and D-methionine helps your body quickly make more glutathione.
Note: you don’t want to overdose on N-Acetyl-Cysteine, as it can actually work “backwards” and cause more ear damage. I’ve seen figures that if you take more than 2,800 mg of N-Acetyl-Cysteine a day it can reverse its activity and become a pro-oxidant rather than the beneficial antioxidant.
Your ears need some N-Acetyl-Cysteine, but too much can be dangerous. You may want to consider taking glutathione and N-Acetyl-Cysteine to help protect your ears.
Incidentally, Vitamins E and C are also good antioxidants. This will give your body the boost it needs to zap all these free radicals.
In addition, researchers now know that the mineral magnesium (and Magnesium L-Threonate has the greatest bio-availability) plays an important part in hearing. Scientists have found that a magnesium deficiency increases susceptibility to noise damage. One of the things that happens is the lack of magnesium causes the tiny blood vessels in your ears to constrict, thus depriving them of an adequate supply of oxygen. At the same time, loud noise depletes your ears of magnesium—so loud noise actually causes a double-whammy.
There is evidence that high doses of magnesium taken soon after a sudden hearing loss can sometimes help restore hearing. You may still want to try the above. Since they are all natural substances, they won’t harm your body or your ears (unless you overdose on them).