Because of my history with tinnitus – I was the poster boy for tinnitus in the mid-80’s after Burma folded due to tinnitus – I am creating this page. Many people ask me questions about Tinnitus. My poster boy status is long-gone – tinnitus is as common as the common cold. At this point, most musicians I know have tinnitus. I acquired tinnitus in 1977 and I have had it ever since.
Links that may be useful:
HERE is an odd one that has real science behind it. They apply mild shocks to the tongue while putting tones in your ears. It requires multiple sessions. Seems like it could be useful if tinnitus was really driving you crazy.
2018: A new link from the University of Michigan – again, I have not tried it. If you do and it produces results, please let me know and I can update this page.
Here is a recent technique. I have not tried it, but it certainly looks interesting. If you do try it and it produces results, please let me know (it requires going on facebook):
What have I done to mitigate tinnitus as a performer?
Ear plugs are a must at rock concerts, or for a musician in a loud rehearsal space. They are initially disturbing, because they make music sound like it’s coming from another room, muffled. However, I have learned to adapt to earplugs, and in the first period of Burma, I would even help Martin EQ the drums while wearing them. You just take them into consideration and adapt.
Obviously there are many types of earplugs. The “musician’s earplugs” that sound “natural” are fine if you don’t have tinnitus yet. I use the strongest earplugs possible, with no subtle hearing curve because I need the most protection possible. I get mine custom-made at Brookline Hearing Services (Brookline, MA), though I’m sure they are available in many places. They force some weird gunk into your ear and it solidifies quickly. This is used to create a mold out from rubber-like material which, sort of like silly putty, clings to your ear canal. It cuts out the most possible sound of any earplug available: it is solid rubber. They cost around $80.00 but are totally worth it for me. I always have them with me. Always.
I recommend EVERY musician wear earplugs during rehearsals. Better to protect your ears while you are just working out songs. Let it rip for the show where it really counts without ’em, but don’t throw your ears to the lions during rehearsals. Almost all rehearsal spaces are sonic nightmares of congested frequencies and close proximity to noise sources. Bad scene, really. Wear the damned earplugs in that room. I’m serious.
I used the shot-gun headphones (starting late 1982) until I got the new custom earplugs mentioned above. Even w/the headphones AND earplugs, my ears worsened at the end of the first phase of Burma. They definitely did cut some more sound out, but after some point, the payback, especially the non-attractive look, just ain’t worth it. As mentioned, the above custom earplugs are now much better than they used to be – they stick better to the ear canal and don’t come loose so I can afford not to wear the headphones.
I’ve seen parents with kids at rock festivals, and many of these kids are wearing those shot-gun headphones. They are all my children (metaphorically speaking).
On stage in Mission of Burma (Trinary System is not nearly so loud):
* I have my guitar amp off to my side, not aimed directly at me. (I always offer earplugs to anyone on my side of the stage).
* I use no monitors at all. With earplugs in, I can hear my own singing fine. And I’ve adapted my hearing to make sense out of the muted frequencies I hear on stage.
* There is a plexi-glass shield around Pete’s drum kit. Many venues have these, and they are easy to rent. Burma owns one for shows we drive to. The sound of a snare-drum hit is one of the worst types for the ear. The fast attack comes too quick for the ear to defend itself by closing down a bit, so the ear closes too late. Then there is no residual volume so the ear opens up again. Then the attack comes too fast to adapt to, etc. etc. etc. Bad news for the ears.
* At concerts, I do not stand directly in front of the stage to see bands (like I so loved to do as a teenager) or the PA system.
Potentially helpful ideas if you have tinnitus:
First off, there is currently no cure. Sucks. But with so many people now suffering from tinnitus, you know damn well there’s money in it if they could find a solution. So…. maybe in 10 years or so they’ll have figured out some way to help things……
In the mean time:
If it bothers you at night, some pleasant white noise may cover it up. There have been rumors of TVs been turned on to “snow” used by some musicians. I have never been bothered so much that I needed to mask the sounds, but if I ever do, I suspect I’d prefer to use a bubbler in a fish-tank kind of sound.
I found that acupuncture, while very useful for a number of things in the human body, had no impact on my tinnitus. Others may have found different results. So far, I have not heard that acupuncture is the cure-all, though.
There have been rumors that Vitamin B can helpful in reducing tinnitus. I did major doses of that years back until one night at the dinner table my skin felt like it was on fire and I ran outside and rolled in the snow. That’s called Vitamin B overdose. Interesting experience, but it did not help my tinnitus.
Avoiding loud Music:
Back in the early ’80’s, I found that if I didn’t play loud music or go to shows for 3 weeks, it would gradually quiet down. But that after 3 weeks, it stabilized there. Since performing is a major part of how I make my living, I do not really get 3 week breaks any more.
Various other Notes:
Other Sources of Tinnitus:
And of course, it doesn’t need to be loud music. Many military personnel have damaged ears from big guns, and people working in metal shops develop it regularly as well. Sometimes it just shows up out of nowhere – the ear is really not that well understood.
Most tinnitus is a “ringing in the ears.” It started for me as very specific pitches (I could tell if my guitar was out of tune by plugging my ears and listening to the “A” pitch). For others, it sounds like crickets. Now it is more a white noise, with some high frequencies on top – like the whine of a TV set. Hyperacusis strikes me as being the oddest manifestation of tinnitus, but I know many people who have it this way. The hearer has a hard time hearing people in their vicinity, but people across the room are very loud. I’d like to see the science for that.
I have heard that the weather changes some people’s tinnitus sounds. I have not found this to be the case. But ears are very weird and poorly understood organs in the human body. And tinnitus is acutely subjective – only the sufferer can hear it and comment on it.
One person emailed me that he had tinnitus. When his dentist gave him a Bite Guard to keep him from grinding his teeth at night, his tinnitus disappeared! The dentist told him he knew of others who were helped this way. A good Bite Guard is costly though. At any rate, that would not solve my problem, as mine is very definitely derived from amplified music.
Decibel Level Reduction:
Ear muffs reduce to 30db. The typical foam earplugs are 27/28db. Of course 30db is more than 2 points more reduction, as decibels are rated in square roots. So 29db is a lot more reduction than 28db. However, I have never seen any ear defense go over 30db, and I’ve read that even that is an exaggeration.
If my answers here do not address your problem, please respond below. I will then answer to the best of my ability. Others will then be able to see the continuing dialog.
I hope you find this helpful.