by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A man wrote,
I mowed my lawn for the first time this year, and about halfway through the job my tinnitus began to get louder. I wore a pair of ear muffs rated at 25 db noise reduction, but my mower is not that loud to begin with. However, I did notice some minor vibrations in the mower handle, but truthfully it did not seem that bad. Have you ever heard of someone’s tinnitus getting worse due to using a push mower? Can vibrations from a push mower cause an increase in tinnitus? I wonder if I should consider a reel mower, or an electric model?
Loud lawnmowers can damage our ears—resulting in hearing loss and tinnitus. There is no doubt about that.
However, since your lawnmower is not a loud one—let’s say about 90 dB, it shouldn’t be causing your tinnitus to get louder—even without the earmuffs.
With the earmuffs, you’d only be hearing it at 65 dB and other sounds would be correspondingly less. In no way should this affect your hearing or cause tinnitus.
What I suspect happened is that your ears were being deprived of sounds so your brain turned up the internal volume and that made your tinnitus seem louder.
For example, you can get tinnitus from being in a soundproof room and not making any noise for an hour. Your brain doesn’t like being deprived of sounds and turns the internal volume up trying to hear something and eventually you hear tinnitus. Tinnitus from this cause typically goes away shortly after you come out of the soundproof room and begin hearing normally again.
Thinking back, “Was this your experience with the lawnmower and your increased tinnitus?” This is a good reason why you mustn’t overprotect your ears from all sounds—just from ear-damaging levels of sounds.
To this, the man explained, “Yes, I’d say so. On the other hand, I used a new gas powered trimmer with the same ear muffs, but I don’t recall my tinnitus getting louder that day until I used the mower. Maybe it was because the trimmer is louder than the mower.”
That is one distinct possibility. And the motor of the trimmer was closer to your ears too, which would make it even louder. Thus, in spite of your earmuffs, your ears were getting sufficient levels of sound to prevent your tinnitus from getting louder.
I’ve never heard of vibrations themselves causing tinnitus. I suppose theoretically they could, but in actual practice, I don’t think it happens. The vibrations from your mower are dampened by your hands, arms, body and neck—long before they reach your head. So your skull shouldn’t be subjected to vibrations severe enough to cause ear problems.
Rather than getting a quieter mower, I think all you need to do is use a lesser protection factor in your earmuffs. Depending on the volume of your mower, you may only need a 10 dB protection factor or so. All you’re trying to do is get sounds below 80 dB—not cutting them out altogether.
If you want to learn more about the many different things that can trigger tinnitus, or more about many things you can do to help bring your tinnitus under control, check out my book, When Your Ears Ring—Cope with Your Tinnitus—Here’s How.