by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A young man wrote me:
I am a 3rd year student at college. I am also a part time DJ [disk jockey], thanks to my very deep love and passion for music. Before I started working as a DJ, I had taken very good care of my ears, and I can assure you I had perfect hearing until recently. I have been working as a mobile DJ for over 6 months now, and have done a large number of shows.
After every show I do, I experience temporary tinnitus and hearing loss for a few hours. Now, with every show I do, the resulting tinnitus and hearing loss is lasting longer and longer.
My hearing used to return to normal in the morning after gettting up from sleep or resting. However, since the last two shows, it just feels the same even after sleep or rest. It does not seem to be coming back. I am really worried now that I have caused some permanent damage to my hearing.
Although I had the possibility of hearing damage in mind before I started DJing, to be honest, I was willing to give it a shot because I did not really think the loud sounds would affect my ears so quickly.
As a very passionate music lover, the last thing I want is to lose even the slightest bit of hearing. I am willing to give up DJing for it if necessary. Is it possible to continue DJing (with some precautions) and not damage my hearing any further?
Personally, I doubt it. Let me explain. Your ears are obviously quite sensitive to loud sounds. That is why you lost your hearing faster than you ever expected.
When you have been around loud noise, you typically get tinnitus (your ears ring) and sounds seem muffled. Technically, this is called a temporary threshold shift. At first, as was your experience, this goes away in a hour or two.
With continued exposure to loud sounds, you notice that the tinnitus lasts longer and longer and finally the tinnitus becomes permanent. At the same time, the temporary threshold shift also lasts longer and longer. Finally, your hearing doesn’t recover. Now you have a permanent threshold shift. In other words, you have permanently lost some of your hearing. You have just joined the ranks of hard of hearing people.
The more you expose your ears to any loud sounds in the future, the worse your hearing will become (not to mention, putting up with loud incessant tinnitus).
You need to protect your ears. The best way is to avoid loud sounds completely. If you are going to be around loud sounds, you need to wear good ear plugs with a rating of about 30 dB. This would drop the volume your ears hear sounds by 30 dB.
Unfortunately, even then, some of the loud sounds may penetrate to your inner ears, as they will reach your inner ears through your skull via bone conduction and continue damaging your hearing. Don’t get me wrong, the ear plugs will certainly help, but they do not offer complete protection from loud sounds.
The sensible way is to turn the music down to a reasonable level–one that will not damage anyone’s ears. If you set the music level to a maximum of 80 dB, you wouldn’t ever have to worry about damaging your ears.
He then asks:
I am worried about my current tinnitus and hearing loss. Is there anything I can do now to cure it, and thereafter prevent anymore of it?
If the hearing loss is permanent, it is now too late to do anything about getting it back. Your aim needs to be in preventing any more hearing loss in the future. The simple answer is that you need to avoid loud sounds in the future (or wear ear protectors).
Incidentally, it is not well known, but smoking and noise can team up to really damage your ears–more than either alone would do. Your ears may be particularly sensitive to this combination, and since “90% of my gigs gigs are at clubs, or places where a lot of people in the room are smoking,” this could be a contributing factor to your hearing loss.
Finally, he asks:
I am rather curious how everyone else in the industry, including musicians and DJs (not to mention regular club-goers and loud music listeners) who have been doing this for a long time still manage to (or at least appear to) be hearing fine? Is it that they DO suffer from hearing loss but are unaware of it? Or is it that they’re much too young to actually start feeling the damage?
Good questions. I’ll bet they have some permanent hearing loss and likely tinnitus too–but maybe they don’t care. However, loud sounds do not affect everyone the same.
For example, each person’s ears are different. Some people have “delicate” ears and others have very “robust” ears–so loud sounds that damage one person’s hearing may not do the same amount of damage to another person’s hearing. Perhaps you have more sensitive ears than most. (Or perhaps you are just more aware of the damage–because you care about your hearing and are watching for any loss.)
I don’t think many don’t suffer any hearing loss. Did you know that studies show that even kids in elementary school have a lot of noise damage to their ears. I think it affects something like 15% of them. Studies of college age people show significant noise damage in considerable numbers of them so you certainly are not alone.
Also, you might be surprised that numbers of musicians now wear special musician’s ear plugs so they don’t damage their ears when putting on loud concerts. Maybe you should ask around those that have been in the business for a number of years and see if any of them wear earplugs to protect their ears.
There is actually a website for musicians who have lost some of their hearing from playing loud music. It is called H.E.A.R. (Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers). Their website is at http://www.hearnet.com/index.shtml. You might want to check it out.