IF YOU HEAR RINGING, buzzing, hissing, and other sounds after the amplifiers have been switched off, that’s tinnitus. Think of tinnitus (pronounced ti-NIGHT-us or TIN-it-us) as a warning signal, telling you that the noise you’ve been around is too loud for your hearing system. After a loud rehearsal or gig your ears might ring for several minutes or hours, but after repeated occurrences the sound could last much longer—or never go away.
The primary factors contributing to tinnitus are loudness and duration. Hearing loss typically occurs after years of exposure, but tinnitus can occur after only a single instance. Researchers caution that permanent hearing loss can occur with prolonged exposure to 85dB (or decibels, a measure of sound as it is heard by the ear) or above. Normal conversation measures about 60dB, and a chain saw about 105dB—but amplified music can easily reach 120dB. The potential for tinnitus and hearing loss increases exponentially with even slight rises in decibel count, as a level of 85dB is 10 times louder than one of 75dB, and 95dB is 100 times louder than 75dB.
What’s the solution? Foam earplugs, available at any drugstore, are effective and inexpensive. The next step up are the custom-made ER-15 earplugs manufactured by Etymotic Research, which provide 15dB of level reduction without changing the overall frequency balance of the music. More sophisticated and expensive devices, resembling hearing aids, are also available from Etymotic Research, as well as from Sensaphonics and Futuresonics. —Phil Morton
For further information, contact the American Tinnitus Association: (800) 634-8978;