Can you get tinnitus from loud music?

Tinnitus affects 10% of adults in the UK - here's how to avoid it.

Amelia Ward

Last updated: 4th Oct 2018.
Originally published: 21st Sep 2018

From the mental and financial demands of being an event promoter, to the pressures of fame on young DJs and the physical side effects of being in a band, repercussions affecting mental health are rife within the music industry. 

A survey conducted by Skiddle recently revealed a staggering number of promoters suffer from anxiety and depression as a result of their profession, but one of the least talked about, but arguably most easily avoidable issues relating to live events, is tinnitus.

The condition can become so severe that it leads to mental health problems, with sufferers reporting such effects as depression, anxiety, anger, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, and even thoughts of suicide. Tragically, in November 2016, Inspiral Carpets bassist Craig Gill took his own life as a result of over 20 years of suffering with the condition, a stark reminder of how serious tinnitus really is.

What is tinnitus?

You know, that ringing in your ears that reminds you how amazing last night's gig was? It's usually a temporary thing that is believed to be caused when the tiny hairs inside your inner ear are damaged from excessive sound levels; tinnitus is when this ringing or whistling noise becomes permanent. It can be caused over time by repeat exposure or after a single event and there is no known cure. 

How common is it?

Ten percent of adults in the UK will be affected by the condition at some point in their life and the estimated economic burden to the UK associated with hearing loss per year is £30bn. Hearing loss is the second most prevalent health issue globally and 40% of young adults are exposed to potentially damaging levels of sound at entertainment venues

How do I know if I am at risk?

The two key elements that create an unsafe listening practice is the volume level (measured in decibels) and the time you are exposed to it. There are many sounds we are exposed to in day to day life that are safe for short periods, but given enough time, put your hearing at risk.

Most clubs and festival stages reach levels of 100dB and above. At this volume, unprotected ears are only safe for 15 minutes. If you're concerned, download a decibel reader app on your phone and record the volume level next time you are at a music event. For every 3dB the volume increases, your safe exposure time is halved. This scale from the British Tinnitus Association is an easy way to learn more, and understand when you should wear hearing protection.

It is a common misunderstanding that you are only at risk if you go to live music events regularly. Hearing damage and tinnitus can occur after a single event. 

How do I spot it?

For most people, hearing loss is a gradual and painless process. This can make it quite tricky to spot. Here are some things to look out for.

- hearing ringing or buzzing after a music event

- difficulty understanding speech

- difficulty keeping up with conversations in groups

- difficulty distinguishing between sounds like ‘t’, ‘d’ and ‘s’

- regularly feel tired or stressed, from having to concentrate while listening

If you experience these symptoms it may be worth getting a hearing test to find out more.

What can I do to prevent it?

The easiest way to stop Tinnitus in its tracks is to wear earplugs. We understand that this sounds like the last thing you would want to do when you have paid good money to experience the music, but bear with us.

We are not talking about foam earplugs which muffle sound and ruin the experience. High-fidelity earplugs are specifically designed for listening to music. They contain acoustic filters that keep the sound crystal clear, whilst lowering the volume to a safe level. You can still enjoy the event fully without risk to your hearing.

What can I do if I already have it?

Although there is no cure as yet, there are numerous ways to deal with the condition, including relaxation and meditation, CBT and sounds such as white noise. For more info on living with tinnitus click here.

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