January 23, 2017

Breaking The Silence…Tinnitus

By Michael Tyrrell
  • Dusseldorf, Germany – 1991
  • We are playing to a sold out crowd at the Phillip’s Sport Halle
  • The sound pressure levels are deafening
  • 10,000 people are screaming
  • The drums sound like cannon
  • Electric guitars, bass and keyboards pushing 110 decibels on stage as we play for two hours straight.

Backstage, Tony – my close friend and drummer for the band – crumbles in my arms and keeps repeating, “I can’t take it anymore! I can’t take it anymore!” This was my introduction to the maddening effect of severe tinnitus.

Recent statistics estimate:

  • Over 50 million Americans experience tinnitus.
  • Of these, 12 million have tinnitus severe enough to seek medical attention.
  • About 2 million are so debilitated by the tinnitus they cannot function at a normal day-to-day level.

What is Tinnitus

Tinnitus:

  • Defined is hearing ringing, buzzing, roaring or other sounds without an external cause.
  • May be experienced in one or both ears by patients.
  • Is diagnosed in two categories: objective or subjective.
    • In objective tinnitus, the doctor can hear the sounds as well as the patient.
    • Subjective tinnitus can only be heard by the patient.

Before I continue, let me stress the importance of seeking professional help to accurately diagnose your tinnitus. Properly diagnosing tinnitus is as difficult as tracking down endless possibilities for an electrical problem in your car.

In cases of objective tinnitus, there is usually a structural issue:

  • Tumors
  • Pressurized blood flow through congested or malformed vessels
  • Muscular spasms

Objective tinnitus is rare; most cases are subjective. Subjective tinnitus is often associated with hearing loss. Some cause of subjective tinnitus are:

  • Impacted earwax
  • Ear infections
  • Hardening of the inner ear
  • Hearing loss do to age or excessive noise
  • Ototoxic medications such as aspirin and quinine
  • Some diuretics
  • Certain antibiotics
  • Head trauma
  • And systemic diseases

Who is at Risk of Tinnitus

Now that we know what tinnitus is, lets discuss who is most at risk.

Obviously, construction workers that work with heavy equipment like jackhammers and power tools face a great occupational hazard. Believe it or not, musicians top our list at risk for tinnitus – with rock drummers coming in at number one!

As a professional musician and music producer, I can tell you first hand how important earplugs are. You see, drummers not only get whacked with the volume of the other musicians, but they get the “rim shot” from their snare drum – which is LOUD!!!

When I looked at the list of musicians that admit suffering with tinnitus in wikipedia’s tinnitus post, I wasn’t at all surprised that my favorite singer Bono of U2 was one of the first names I came across!

You see, some musicians have suffered with tinnitus or frequency loss because they were not aware of the danger and played loud music for years without wearing earplugs. Today, musicians are far more informed. In fact, there are websites dedicated to helping musicians save their hearing. This is my personal fave: www.hearnet.com

H.E.A.R. is a volunteer network dedicated to helping musicians retain their hearing. One thing I have learned the hard way is… whenever you are exposed to noise, wear your earplugs!

Another statistic on the rise is ear damage from car stereos and mp3/iPod players with earbuds. High SPLs (Sound Pressure Levels) are very damaging unless they are deflected. In-ear monitors and earbuds send high decibel sound directly into the ear cavity. When using your earbuds, make sure you are not turning the volume up too high, which can cause permanent hearing impairment including tinnitus.

Damages of Tinnitus

Now, here is where it gets interesting…

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