The Dangers Of Tinnitus And How To Protect Your Hearing


dangers of tinnitus lead canva 128x71 1The Dangers Of Tinnitus And How To Protect Your Hearing

dangers of tinnitus lead canva 128x71 1

Tinnitus, or permanent ringing in the ears, is incurable and more and more musicians are suffering from it. Here’s what you need to know.


You come home from playing a show and it’s there again, that annoying ringing in your ears. At first, you don’t pay it much mind. But a few days later you notice it hasn’t gone away. After a week, you’re really worried. Will it ever stop? Stress builds and you focus more and more on it. You start contemplating giving up playing live music altogether. Your career, you decide, is over.

Protect your ears

Protect your ears from loud sounds

This is, unfortunately, an all too common situation for those of us working in the music field. I went through the exact same thing as a DJ in the 2000s. One day the ringing just didn’t go away and it’s still with me today. It’s horrible. As more and more young people test poorly for hearing and noise levels at clubs and venues creep ever higher, it’s important that we understand what tinnitus is and how to prevent it – because there’s no cure.

Tinnitus: What Is It?

According to DWM Audiology, a musician-focused audiology clinic based in Melbourne, Australia, tinnitus is “the term used to describe hearing any sounds which are not present externally.” It can manifest as ringing, hissing, buzzing or clicking, and can be a single sound or a number of different sounds. Indeed, my tinnitus is a banshee chorus of whines and whooshes.

Protect your ears

Protect your ears

Tinnitus is caused by prolonged exposure to loud sounds. According to a document provided to us by DWM Audiology, all types of music – yes, even classical – can pose some risks. “An American study indicated peak noise levels of up to 130dBon stage at rock concerts and 115 dB for the audience. In orchestral music performances, the noise levels on stage can exceed 100dB.” And the percussion section can go even higher – to rock concert levels of  130dB. To put this in perspective, jackhammers and air raid sirens put out 130dB. (You can check your risk level with the Know Your Noise risk calculator.)

Along with tinnitus, musicians and other music professionals are in danger of developing hearing loss, hyperacusis (perceiving ordinary sounds as too loud or distorted) and acoustic shock, a psychological reaction to a sudden, loud noise.

The Psychological Factor

Something not often talked about with tinnitus is the psychological factor. After developing tinnitus or other auditory issues, musicians may find themselves struggling to manage their situation. They can feel threatened by sounds and, as part of a desire to protect their hearing, withdraw from musical environments.

Anticipatory anxiety about damage and hypervigilance towards the volume, proximity and duration of loud music exposure from nearby instruments when playing in ensembles, orchestras or bands not only causes hyperacusis and tensor tympani syndrome (acoustic shock) escalation, it undermines any joy from music playing,” literature from DWM Audiology states. This will ultimately affect the musician’s ability to play their musical instrument and may even cause them to withdraw from their profession. This is exactly what happened with me and my DJ career. I essentially quit to protect my ears.

Sound Levels: Safe Practices

What can musicians and music professionals do? We asked Myriam Westcott, a director at DWM Audiology. “The best way for a musician to protect their hearing,” she said, “is to be aware of the safe listening levels – ‘too loud, for too long, too often’ is my mantra regarding risk – and use filtered ear plugs.”

She went on to say that once you are aware of the risk and are safely managing it, you should not be afraid to do music. “You can’t enjoy being a musician if you are hanging back and being tentative,” she says.

Protect Your Hearing

To best protect your hearing, DWM Audiology recommends customised filtered ear plugs. Audiologists will mould them to your ear canal out of soft silicone. They sit deep into the canal to minimize the feeling of blockage. An audiologist must fit the mould. A filter sits in the mould and attenuates volume without stifling frequencies like industrial ear plugs. You can buy filters in a variety of decibel attenuation levels. You can also swap them out depending on the situation.

MEE Professional custom earplugs

Custom earplugs are available from a variety of companies, including MEE Professional

There are also a variety of non-customized, off-the-shelf ear plugs that provide protection, if not as comfortably as customized ones.

DWM Audiology also recommends in-ear monitors as a way to control sound levels. If you’re interested in learning more about IEMs, then read our beginner’s guide to in-ear-monitors.

“In an ideal world,” the audiology clinic’s literature says, “the problem should be easily resolved by just turning everything down. But, in the real world, many patrons and therefore promoters expect the music to be at high volume levels for full enjoyment. As a musician, you may not be able to change these expectations.”

There’s No Cure

What to do if you find that the ringing in your ears doesn’t stop? Despite what dodgy sponsored posts on Facebook may want you to think, there’s no cure for tinnitus. However, there are ways to minimize the psychological impact. “We are not (yet) able to stop tinnitus emergence in the brain but there is a great deal that can be done to alter the way the brain is perceiving and reacting to tinnitus,” said Myriam. “Most people with tinnitus will spontaneously habituate to their tinnitus over time. (However), some degree of acceptance of the tinnitus is needed.”

Ear check

Get your ears checked

Unfortunately, she continued, “In a two-way process, tinnitus awareness, volume and prominence are typically influenced by anxiety, depression and stress. The onset, persistence and escalation of tinnitus can be a highly distressing or even traumatic experience, tapping into the primaeval parts of the brain where sounds (including tinnitus) are evaluated to identify potential threats to one’s safety, wellbeing and survival.”

She summed up that “psychological approaches to assessing and supporting the impact of tinnitus and the individual barriers to tinnitus habituation remain the most effective ways of treating (it).”

Living With Tinnitus

As for me, I’ve had my tinnitus now for almost 20 years. Thankfully, I usually don’t notice it unless I’m in a very quiet environment. Sometimes it seems to flare up, as in periods of increased stress. I try to tell myself that it hasn’t gotten worse, that I’m just currently more aware of it for some reason. I continue to manage it by not wearing earbuds and avoiding loud sounds. I’m primarily an ambient musician these days so it’s not such an issue for me but I recognize that my case is likely unique.

If you feel that you have developed or are developing tinnitus or hearing loss, it’s best to consult an audiologist right away. Please check the links below the video or search online. Consider investing in a set of custom earplugs or in-ear monitors. If you can’t afford those right now, at least use some off-the-shelf ones. Something is better than nothing. You only get one set of ears. Protect them like your livelihood depended on it – because it actually does.

Sennheiser XSW IEM A-Band + IE100Pro Set
Sennheiser XSW IEM A-Band + IE100Pro Set
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EarPeace Ear Protection Plugs Black
EarPeace Ear Protection Plugs Black

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Minuendo Lossless Earplugs
Minuendo Lossless Earplugs

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Available for 139.00 € atthomann

More information

  • DWM Audiology homepage
  • Tinnitus Australia website
  • Tinnitus UK website
  • American Tinnitus Association homepage
  • All about in-ear monitoring
  • All about live performance

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