At some point, it is very likely everyone has encountered that ringing noise in the ear that is apparent after a hard rock concert, or even after mowing the lawn. Imagine if this temporary annoyance was permanent- and painful. Guitar players are at risk for what is called tinnitus, and may very well be doomed to hear this ringing noise indefinitely, without prevention.
Figure 1 – Having wax build-up can lead to temporary tinnitus. Permanent damage can easily come from excessively loud amplifiers.
What is tinnitus? What causes tinnitus
Tinnitus is the ringing, whistling and hissing in the ears, often after being subjected to excessive volume. It can come from a few other sources, such as wax buildup or a bad sinus infection. These sources are usually temporary, as they can be fixed. Guitar players are at higher risk for permanent tinnitus because of the loud noises that they are exposed to. Playing at high volumes can very well damage ears after every session. Guitarists standing close to drums, cymbals and amplifiers can cause temporary tinnitus and eventually cause permanent hearing damage.
In more scientific terms, pain actually starts to begin at 120 decibels. A decibel is a unit of measurement for noise- the larger the number, the more risk is taken. Out of all the musical instruments, guitars are some of the loudest- with amplifiers very well capable of 120 decibels and over. Rock concerts come in at 150 decibels- where tinnitus is almost guaranteed to make a presence, and will surely be noticeable after the concert.
Figure 2 – Have a case of tinnitus? Make sure to lay off the alcohol, caffeine, and even aspirin!
What can be done?
If the damage has been done, whether temporary or seemingly more permanent, there are a few things that can be done to prevent more damage. Taking aspirin, alcohol, certain drugs, and even caffeine will worsen the condition. It is recommended that exposure to noise be limited if tinnitus is being experienced. Only with time will tinnitus reduce in effect, unless it has become permanent. In this case, more specific treatments are required.
The prospect of knowing that the ringing sound will not go away is very frightening. Certain hearing aids and surgeries can mask the noises, so sufferers of tinnitus can experience a bit of peace. Sadly, there is little research into the condition- and a cure is not available. Until a viable cure has been developed, further prevention and masking remain to be some of the very few choices tinnitus victims have.
Figure 3 – Playing loud doesn’t always mean playing good. Reach for the volume knob when things get noisy.
Overall, prevention is important to avoiding tinnitus. High volumes can make a great guitar riff ten times as good, but breaks should be taken. If loud sound can not be avoided, it is best to take 30 minutes breaks when possible, certainly if hearing loss is noticed. There are custom fit earplugs available that can decrease frequencies on all levels by the same amount- so sound and music won’t be distorted. This really is worth spending some money on: titanium plugs are best e.g. Isolate Pro. Cheaper brands will of course protect your ears, but do distort the music, to a greater or lesser extent. In any event toilet paper and a little creativity will do nothing- at least, nothing beneficial. In all seriousness, consider turning the volume down a little for the next jam session to keep your playing career both long and enjoyable.