Headphone-induced TINNITUS

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This isn't strictly a music-related question, but it involves a condition that goes hand in hand with the responsible enjoyment of music. In 1999, I developed Tinnitus, a perpetual ringing in my right ear. Thanks to high-profile celebs like Pete Townshend and William Shatner (it's true!), Tinnitus has gotten a bit of press, but solutions still aren't that plentiful and a cure remains non-existent. In my particular case, my personal physician, ear-doctor and audiologist all blamed my penchant for constant high-volume usage of my Walkmen as the culprit (when you're in your teens and your twenties, you think you're relatively impervious to these sorts of things -- thus the volume level for me was generally ALL THE WAY UP ALL THE TIME!) Gradually and cumulatively, I pushed the limits over the edge. To be fair, I know people who have it in BOTH ears, and much worse than I. I've learned to live with it, but it is incredibly annoying at times. I take Ginko Biloba (which is rumoured to sometimes reduce the ringing), but no dice as yet. So, I cope.

I was just wondering, however, within this online community of zealous music fans, does anyone else suffer from this condition? If so, what's your story and what do you do about it?

Alex in NYC, Saturday, 13 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Sorry, it was my WALKMAN that was the culprit....not the Walkmen, although one could argue that they're a bit hard on the ears as well. ::::rimshot::::

Alex in NYC, Saturday, 13 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Im have at too and my remebre on 321 Corntact wehn Ace FHREELY went to the ear dorcter and he said "Ace the simbals at making you loose you hearing."

Karl J Kretzschmar, Saturday, 13 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

my mean Petre Kriss

Karl J Kretzschmar, Saturday, 13 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

yeah, i gots it. i don't generally notice it, but if i'm in a car with the windows rolled up and the engine off, it seems deafening. i'm just glad i don't live out in the quiet countryside, i think i'd lose my mind. i do have it in both ears, but i've noticed that it's steadily gotten worse over the years (despite deliberately attempting to avoid high-volume settings), contrary to what some people have told me. recently it got much worse in the right ear when i got a severe case of otitis media, but it seems to be tapering off to it's normal, horrifying level.

tinnitus fucking sucks.

your null fame, Saturday, 13 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Yep. I'm only 18 and I have a very mild form of it. :(

Andrew, Saturday, 13 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

My friend has it from DJ'ing with his headphones at full volume. It's really sad to see someone who loves music so much get it. he's a lot more cautious now, to prevent further damage.

Manny Parsons, Saturday, 13 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I worry about it sometimes because I've been listening to music on headphones an awful lot more than usual lately, with my Jukebox, on the way to work. I try to keep the volume down but I often turn it up so I can hear it over the subway noise...which is a recipe for disaster I guess. As far as I can tell I don't have any loss of hearing yet...can still detect things at all of the frequencies...but I sometimes need to do a double take when someone says something to me when there's other background noise, like my brain just can't decode anymore, can't pick out the one signal. I wonder if that's just because I'm not used to such inundations of noise (came from a quieter city) or whether I should be worried about my hearing more generally speaking.

Sean Carruthers, Saturday, 13 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I'm starting to get it. I only notice it though when I'm in a completely quiet setting. I've been extra careful in using the ear plugs even at acoustic shows (Jazz, Folk) . I also notice that the ringing is much louder after using headphones so I stay away from them except the once a week or so that I'm DJing.

One thing i did hear form a doctor is that even though your wearing earplugs. Just as much sound travels through you eye sockets and nostrils. Not necessarily the same path as down the ear canal straight to the eardrum, but it does do some damage.

brg30, Saturday, 13 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Yeah, I've heard that too, Brg, as farfetched as the theory sounds. I was being very good about earplugs at shows/concerts, but I fall off the horse every now and then, so to speak. When the tinnitus first appeared I put my walkman away for, like, two years, only recently to dig it out and use it again (at lower volumes)....I just couldn't bear to listen to the crap playing at my gym (hi-NRG dance music from ten years ago) whenever I went, so I figured "well, a little moderate walkman use won't kill me."

Alex in NYC, Saturday, 13 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I have it and I blame Fatboy Slim for being so cool back in early 1999 that I wanted to be so close to him and the fucking loud Big Day Out Boiler Room speakers.

Keith McD, Sunday, 14 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I'm terrified of getting this, as I do listen to headphones frequently (and have for a long time). Do your ears ring all the time, or just once in a while? I get a buzz in the ear for a few seconds once in a while, but that's it.

Mark, Sunday, 14 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

In my case, it's very low key, noticeable when all is quiet, but not something that say keeps me up at night. Just a constant little ring...

Ned Raggett, Sunday, 14 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Maybe I have it a little, too. Sometimes I think "Is silence totally silent?" because there's always a little ambient noise. I really am afraid of losing my hearing, and I've been thinking about it a lot lately. Some kind of hypochondria, I guess.

Mark, Sunday, 14 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I've had constant tinnitus in my right ear also since about nine months ago when I went to a particular gig and it was just SO FUCKING LOUD, I was wearing earplugs and everything but still... Obviously this was actually the effects years of listening to music very loudly through the earphones as a teenager, and had been compounded by loud music at gigs and such more recently. I've had varying short-term bouts of it over the years but now it seems permanent. Those of you using headphones and turning the volume right up, just stop it! Sorry to sound like your mum but you may not feel the effects now but you will in a few years time.

I haven't really done anything about it, I should see a doctor about it but I'm not looking forward to the lecture I'll get about how I shouldn't have been listening to music so loud all these years... yes I realise that now. I have seen some stories about tinnitus being treated with cognitive therapy which apparently has pretty good results. I think they train you to just block out the ringing. Anyone know anything more about that?

I'm still going to gigs and I've noticed that paradoxically, though my hearing appears to have deteriorated I actually feel a lot more sensitive to loud music now than I did a few years ago. It could simply be a psychological thing because I now know how damaging it can be, but I now often find listening to very loud music, even while wearing heavy-duty earplugs, a bit uncomfortable.

christabel, Monday, 15 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

As I understand it, the condition of tinnitus can be increased by ** successive** incidents of exposure to high volumes (although it can be developed via a wide array of activities -- I have a friend who developed it through scuba diving). Thus, each time you wear your headphone on full-blast or attend a show without plugs, you're pushing it further and further towards the condition. Eventually, it's going to reach the breaking point, so to speak, so Christabel's right -- stop NOW and increase your own awareness before it's too late.

In terms of the different therapies on offer, personally speaking I'm not quite interested in masking devices or convincing myself that it's not there, as I'm more interested in SOLVING the problem than deluding myself about it. I'm lucky that I only have it in my right ear, and that it's not as invasisve as other cases. Its pitch does seem to fluctuate given certain circumstances (it seems worse in the morning -- it's especially pronounced after a night out or an evening of drinking). I'm most bothered by it when trying to sleep, but there are steps to minimize the irritation: something as simple as a small room fan can created enough "white noise" to effectively drown out the ringing without disrupting your ability to sleep. My tinnitus sounds like something between a whistling tea-kettle and amplifier feedback. Great, eh?

Alex in NYC, Monday, 15 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

count me as another tinnitus sufferer, left ear only for now.

apparently the "ear bud" type headphones sold with mp3 players, minidisc players and cd walkmans are worse for your ears because they direct the sound into your ear in a very forceful and unnatural way. i've always used the big studio style headphones (and no longer attempt to listen to music on the bus or train) but i still worry about worsening my tinnitus. i work in a very boring office and listen to music on headphones a tremendous amount. i do have computer speakers, but my musical taste is not one that could be shared with my co-workers. i wonder if there's any way to determine how loud your headphones should be?

oh yeah, i'm also in a rock band. fuck. we play quiet enough that people have watched our set standing against the wall right by the drum kit and not been bothered. i should go get those $200 earplugs but i'm terribly afraid to go to the audiologist and have him tell me what a fucking idiot i am.

i wonder how long it will be before mogwai does a mission of burma? all i have heard is how tinnitus-inducing mogwai is and how they never wear earplugs (i remember reading one account of stuart trying to pull his parka over his head vainly trying to shield himself from the noise). what the hell are they thinking?

fields of salmon, Monday, 15 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I thought I was getting it last night. I had some music on when I was trying to go to sleep, and slowly I began to hear a dischordant buzzing, and I thought, "I don't remember this being part of the music." And it was much louder in the ear that was pressed to the pillow, so I thought, "no, it can't be the music." I get up to turn the music off and find out where it's coming from and it just gets louder and louder but as if from all around, and I'm thinking "this is getting somewhat disturbing." And suddenly it stops, and in doing so it somehow pinpoints its own location, and I realise it was in fact the washing machine from downstairs.

But yes, as a constant head-phone (ab)user, I too am terrified of getting this for real.

Tim, Monday, 15 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I have some symptoms but have never really developed a lasting ringing. Sometimes if I am talking on the phone, esp to someone with a high pitched voice, the ear I am not listening with sort of twitches or throbs in the eardrum. I was in a band for a long time, tried to wear earplugs at rehearsals, but was really hard to wear them at gigs etc. Nowadays I wear plugs at all the shows I go to, maybe take them out a bit for short intervals. I get slight ringing after exposure but it goes away fairly quickly. No headphones unless recording. Everyone should wear plugs at shows, probably a good idea to wear them on trains, airplanes, etc.

g, Monday, 15 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

another thing to note, some drugs like aspirin and alcohol can induce ringing in the ears in certain people.

g, Monday, 15 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

caffeine and nicotine also have a constricting effect on the blood vessels of the inner ear, which can be tinnitus inducing or tinnitus exacerbating.

fields of salmon, Monday, 15 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Weirdly, I have tinitus only in one ear, my right. OK, maybe that's not so weird after all, considering that for all my years as a bassist, I stood on stage left, with my right ear facing both my massive fuckoff monster amp and the drummer. So I have practically no hearing in my right ear at all. Conveniently, I have switched to guitar, so I get to stand on stage right, with my only good ear left facing the loud stuff so I can hear my bandmates again. I'm smart, me.

kate, Monday, 15 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

erm ... why do guitar players get to stand on the right?

fields of salmon, Thursday, 18 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

seven months pass...
Appropos of nothing I can think of, the ringing in my right ear has intensified somewhat significantly over the past few days, and it's got me a bit worried. Anyone else experience this? I'm back on the Ginko Biloba, but I've yet to encounter any meaningful relief from it (as far as I can tell). Has anyone tried other methods? Would acupuncture help?

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Friday, 21 February 2003 22:01 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I've had it off and on for about a decade, but have barely noticed it at all over the past few years. Is it possible for tinnitus to go away? I've always heard it was degenerative...

Also, what have people found are the best earplugs for live music? I hate the standard-issue cylindrical foam earplugs, as they take away almost all the treble from a band's live show. I always feel like I'm not hearing everything.

mike a (mike a), Friday, 21 February 2003 22:10 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Just what the doctor ordered

oops (Oops), Friday, 21 February 2003 22:54 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I've got the beginnings of this and I AFAIK getting plenty of sleep is supposed to be good for it; ie yr well-rested brane's ability to deal with the constant signal of the damaged nerves. I have noticed that if I say up too late, the next morning when I'm groggily hauling my ass through the shower and to the bus the ringing can be pretty bad.

Also as kind of a placebo/psychological thing I've put earplugs in at home with no music just to read or something, to "listen" to the various ringing layers, get to know the damage, etc.

g.cannon (gcannon), Friday, 21 February 2003 23:02 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

"have noticed that if I say up too late, the next morning .....the ringing can be pretty bad."

Very true. I work all-nighters twice a week, and it's especially pronounced after those shifts.

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Friday, 21 February 2003 23:08 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

A musician friend once told me that a deficiency of Niacin can cause ringing in the ears. I'm not sure what one would have to do to become deficient in Niacin, but anyway... One time when I had a particularly bad spell of tinnitus I remembered this and bought some Niacin pills cuz I was willing to give anything a shot. It seemed like they may have helped a little, but it may have a been a psychological thing more than anything else. The Niacin is weird though, makes you all tingly all over.

Mr. Diamond (diamond), Saturday, 22 February 2003 01:01 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Aren't bananas rich in Niacin? Seriously, aren't they?

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Saturday, 22 February 2003 02:17 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Dunno. I know they have lots of potassium.

Mr. Diamond (diamond), Saturday, 22 February 2003 02:36 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I confuse the two.

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Saturday, 22 February 2003 02:38 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I have tinnitus, too, and the only thing that helps is not to listen to loud music on headphones, and never to go into a show without earplugs. If I go into a show and realize that I've forgotten my earplugs, I leave. I'm not kidding around about my hearing. If I were to sit through a loud show, my ears would ring for a week, and they would always ring just a little bit more than they did before the show. I'm not too damaged, I don't think, but I fear silence. If you ever want to drive me crazy, lock me alone in a sound proof room.

Kenan Hebert (kenan), Saturday, 22 February 2003 03:41 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Oh, and stay away from gin. I can drink most anything, but for some reason, gin alone makes my ears ring. Go fucking figure.

Kenan Hebert (kenan), Saturday, 22 February 2003 06:13 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Duly noted, Kenan....although I'm pretty much strictly a beer man.

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Saturday, 22 February 2003 08:18 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

ten months pass...

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Wednesday, 21 January 2004 23:26 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

"I thought I was getting tinnitus, but it turned out to be that Improvised Music From Japan boxed set. I turned off the CD player and since then I have had no problems with strange ringing noises in my ears."

--client testimonial

fields of salmon (fieldsofsalmon), Thursday, 22 January 2004 00:50 (fourteen years ago) Permalink


Alex in NYC (vassifer), Thursday, 22 January 2004 01:08 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

one year passes...

Yeah, I got it too. I was wondering if there was a thread about this since I was just discussing an unholy (like, fucking unbelievable)loud Unwound show on their thread.

There was a really good article in Tape Op about tinnitus a while back, just thought I'd throw that out since I didn't see it referenced here.

Last time I saw Mission Of Burma (summer '04) Roger Miller had these fancy noise-cancelling headphones.

And yeah, like others here, it only really bothers me when it's quiet.

Another thing that happens that I don't see mentioned is that sometimes it will get MUCH louder for a brief (30 seconds) period, like some kind of feedback. Then it drops down to its normal level.

I'm 39, so I guess my years of hardcore punk and industrial noise shows haven't fucked me up too much. Still, I feel stupid for not dealing with it sooner. Now I get earplugs from the chainsaw store and wear them.

Maybe someday they'll fix it with lasers like near-sightedness... we can only hope.

sleeve (sleeve), Thursday, 10 November 2005 05:07 (twelve years ago) Permalink

one thing that can help are antioxidants - when your ears encounter loud noise, the hairs release free radicals, i.e. unbound oxygen, which go around and wreak havoc and stuff. the antioxidants bind to the unbound oxygen and neutralize it. in fact, the marines or the army or something a while ago developed a pill that would eliminate the effects of ear ringing after target practice, and it was basically antioxidants - take them an hour to half hour before shooting and you'd be fine with no protection, if i recall correctly. not sure if they've released it to the general public, though.

daggerlee, Thursday, 10 November 2005 05:58 (twelve years ago) Permalink

here is the article

daggerlee, Thursday, 10 November 2005 06:01 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Jeez, I was gonna say "Sorry aboot your affliction Alex, wish I knew of a remedy", but evidently we're ALL in the same boat, to an extent. And yeah, I've got tinnitus myself, but happily just a mild case that I only notice in absolute silence. I mostly don't attend concerts anymore (downtown TO is 20 miles away & I don't drive), but I used cotton at the last few I attended. A Motorhead/Black Sabbath show at Toronto's acoustically atrocious Warehouse was the catalyst.

An interesting thing about headphones: Sometimes I'll be listening to an LP with the volume at a reasonable level, and the occasional song will be so shrill, practically painful, that I have to turn the volume WAY down, even tho the song in question is actually no louder nor (necessarily) higher pitched than the others. I'm assuming this happens when a song is in the key of "X", X likewise corresponding to the resonant frequency of the phones themselves. If that makes sense (wish I could explain it better.)

Myonga Von Bontee (Myonga Von Bontee), Thursday, 10 November 2005 09:46 (twelve years ago) Permalink


count me in, forget where I posted about this here already. What I can say about acupuncture re:tinnitus is, the effect is just relaxation. You're less angry about the sound or it's like after a good night's sleep.

blunt (blunt), Thursday, 10 November 2005 17:23 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Yeah, I still have it (and probably always will). I take this stuff called, encouragingly, "Ring Stop," but honestly have no idea if it's doing anything (I can still hear the ring), but I think I've just grown used to it. I should probably be more careful, though, about headphone use (after it surfaced, I didn't touch a pair of headphones for two years) and in terms of going to shows -- I don't go to nearly as many as I used to, but I still should be vigilant about ear-plugs. Mercifully, it hasn't gotten worse for me, but it hasn't gone away either.

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Thursday, 10 November 2005 17:33 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I've had it (in a mild form) as long as I can remember - not sure if it has to do with my constant headphone use since age 10, or ear infections I had as a kid.

I don't have a lot of hope for mechanical repair of hearing loss. Ears are a good deal more complicated than eyes.

Lukas (lukas), Thursday, 10 November 2005 17:36 (twelve years ago) Permalink

lately i get a feeling like having your ears boxed, when i'm listening to high frequencies - particularly if they are high percussive/popping sounds. its almost like i can feel the wave hitting my ear. it doesn't have to be very loud either.

Susan Douglas (Susan Douglas), Thursday, 10 November 2005 17:46 (twelve years ago) Permalink

there's some hope, apparently

Siegbran (eofor), Thursday, 10 November 2005 19:47 (twelve years ago) Permalink

one month passes...
and another iPod-era update, via Coolfer:

The string of articles that link the iPod to potential hearing loss is continued by a piece that quotes a Northwestern University audiologist. "We`re seeing the kind of hearing loss in younger people typically found in aging adults," said Dean Garstecki. "Unfortunately, the earbuds preferred by music listeners are even more likely to cause hearing loss than the muff-type earphones that were associated with the older devices." (my emphasis)


sleeve (sleeve), Sunday, 18 December 2005 17:47 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Unfortunately, the earbuds preferred by music listeners are even more likely to cause hearing loss than the muff-type earphones that were associated with the older devices.

Not only are earbuds placed directly into the ear, they can boost the sound signal by as much as six to nine decibels, said Garstecki.

"That`s the difference in intensity between the sound made by a vacuum cleaner and the sound of a motorcycle engine," said Garstecki.

First of all, if you're reading this board and haven't yet thrown away the rubbish earbuds that came with your iPod: you deserve the damage - just as much as the earplug-less rocket scientists that stand directly in front of the PA system (much less exposed to the sustained loud music coming at them from all directions) at [insert loud music events here] do.

Secondly, earbuds placed directly into the ear…can boost the sound signal by as much as six to nine decibels but only if you continue to unsafely listen to music too loudly using the disposable earbuds that came with your iPod (or any other sub-par pair, for that matter).

On the other hand, if you make a modest investment in your continued listening pleasure [read: forgo the next 10 CDs you planned to purchase and put that money toward entry-level, sound-isolating headphones from Shure or Etymotic], you'll reduce, if not eliminate, the ringing and/or damage lesser earbuds might otherwise inflict on your delicate/sensitive/irreplaceable eardrums.

Speaking from personal experience: After several years (and countless hours) of gym- and subway-use and the resultant/consequent/frequent ringing, I finally made the abovementioned sacrifice (CD-purchase abstinence for music-related, sound-isolating earbuds) and leapt from a pair of non-isolating SONY EX71SL’s to a pair of Shure E2c’s.

I went from listening to music unnecessarily loudly due to my futile attempts to block either the gym’s lousy/loud music or the subway’s din, to the E2c’s successful blocking of a majority of background noise which, in turn, allowed me to turn my volume down—way down now. For example, the I had regularly set the volume on my iPod at 80-90% of its maximum volume with the SONY earbuds to now setting it at about 50% with the Shures.

The Shure website indicates the E2c’s in ear design works like an earplug to block background noise naturally. This enables you to listen comfortably at lower volumes -- even in loud environments. I guess you could say they work as advertised.

No more ringing. No more loud music.

Although it definitely took a little time (less than a week) to adjust to the lower volume. I had grown so accustomed to high volume for satisfactory listening because consciously/sub-consciously, I'd been trying to block out outside noise by turning the volume up.

Blocking noise with more noise? Obviously I'm not a rocket scientist either.

Zimmer026 (Zimmer026), Sunday, 18 December 2005 19:54 (twelve years ago) Permalink

How bad are walkmen/headphones for your hearing, really?

Matt Sab (Matt Sab), Monday, 19 December 2005 15:21 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I use headphones a lot, but have thankfully been saved from that kind of problems. Usually I don't listen to music with really noisy and trebly guitar sound for a long while though, as I do notice my ears are having a hard time listening to it. For instance, I don't think I have ever listened through "Definitely Maybe" in its entirety using headphones.

Geir Hongro (GeirHong), Monday, 19 December 2005 16:21 (twelve years ago) Permalink

the earplug-less rocket scientists that stand directly in front of the PA system
I used to dance inside the fucking bass bins.

blunt (blunt), Monday, 19 December 2005 22:28 (twelve years ago) Permalink

what we lacked in sense we made up for in bliss and it was fucking worth it

Mr Straight Toxic (ghostface), Sunday, 25 December 2005 22:26 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I've gone from 50% maximum volume on earbuds to 24% to 40%. Never can be too careful.

Cunga (Cunga), Monday, 26 December 2005 07:50 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Reuters Health follows-up on the above-cited Coolfer story and closes with the following paragraph:

Noise-canceling headphones are another option for those who desire to listen to music for an extended period of time. These devices, while a bit more costly and more visible than earbuds, partially or fully eliminate background noise so that users do not have to crank up the volume of their music for that purpose.

Zimmer026 (Zimmer026), Friday, 30 December 2005 20:04 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Pete Townshend writes about his headphone-induced hearing loss here:


Lawrence the Looter (Lawrence the Looter), Friday, 30 December 2005 21:26 (twelve years ago) Permalink

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