Whether you are a musician or a DJ, or even an avid concert goer, nothing will spoil your enjoyment more than damaged ears.
We have all been to concerts or performances that have left us with ringing ears. Here’s what happens.
There are tiny hair cells inside of the ear canal that vibrate with sound. Without these hairs the sound waves would have nothing to bounce off. Clumps of these hairs, called stereo-cilia live in the cochlea, the shell shaped cavity in the inner ear.
As sound waves travel into the ear and reach the hair cells, the vibrations bounce and deflect off the stereo-cilia, causing them to move. The motion generates an electrochemical current that in turn sends this information through the auditory nerves, and then on to the brain.
When these hairs are exposed to loud noise, even a short loud burst, the stereo-cilia can keep sending false information to the brain after the noise has abated. Sometimes the tips of the hairs can break off, causing a ringing sensation that can take some time to go away. The tips do, however, grow back and this is why the noise is only temporary. If you keep exposing yourself to high sound levels, then whole clumps of cells can be broken off - and these do not grow back, causing permanent hearing damage.
Normal conversation takes place at about 60dB (the decibel scale (dB) is used to measure sound) – city traffic can measure up to 85dB but car horns and motorbikes can be much higher. If you can restrict the dB level into the ear to a safe 60dB or so then you should come to no harm, but there are not many concert situations that happen at this sedate level. There are a few preventive measures you can take, they are obvious, I realise, but should be thought of as a part of your routine in preparing to play.
- Turn down the volume if you have control over it. If you need to shout to be heard over the volume of your music, then it’s probably too loud. Loud music is not only dangerous, but as the volume rises above a certain level, you lose the detail in the sound and the instinct is to turn up again. This cycle needs to be broken as it will affect the way you play and perform.
- Ear plugs. I know, they’re not cool, but there are some on the market that cut the volume level without affecting the frequency. These will in effect “turn down” the volume for you. They are also a lot less obtrusive than they were even just a few years ago and are also almost invisible. check out earpeace.com
- In-ear monitors. For those of us gigging, monitoring with headphones has its advantages as well as disadvantages. If you are close to a drum kit, noise can be a problem. I have made a pair of custom moulded ear-phones that block a lot of the ambient noise while allowing me to hear a mix of what the audience is hearing at a safe level at my control. The disadvantage is that there is a slight disconnection to the outside world wearing these and you may have to remove one side on the odd occasion to communicate with another band member or hear the audience. Protection 4 Hearing offer lots of choices of professionally made custom moulded earphones.
- Use your common sense. It’s tempting to get caught up in a moment, especially at a lively gig. Standing close to the speaker stacks at a gig is always going to cause problems so try to get into the middle of the room or stage if you can.