Tinnitus

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:

This 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):

From George Takei – interesting technique.

Here’s a relatively new technique utilizing magnetic pulses that some say has been helpful.

Tinnitus Talk – Tinnitus Forum
H.E.A.R. (Hearing Educations and Awareness for Rockers)
Ringstop.
Tinnitus Tamer.
Here’s new set research being done in Dallas.

What have I done to mitigate tinnitus as a performer?

Ear plugs:
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.

Shot-gun Headphones:
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:

* 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 (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:

Masking:
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.

Acupuncture:
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.

Vitamin B:
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.

Hyperacusis:

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.

Weather:
I have heard that the weather changes some people’s tinnitus sounds.  I have not found this to be the case.  But ears are a 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.

Grinding Teeth:
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.


9 responses to “Tinnitus

  • Thomas White

    Roger, thanks so much for the page, as promised. very informative, and just great (great’s maybe not the word…!?) to hear a little more about your T and how you’ve dealt with it. just one thing – i recently tried augmenting my Pro27s with some “firing-range”-type headphones, and to be honest it actually sounded louder, the bass frequencies in particular. could this be that the chambers of the cans create a new acoustic space around your ear that then somehow amplifies what’s happening outside? I also found it fascinating that you talk about being able to pitch from your plugs. i too have cut out using wedges onstage, and drastically brought down my amp – it’s remarkable how easy it is to pitch when you reduce the volume around you and just rely on occlusion to guide you. in fact, more often than not, these days i’m done soundchecking after one song, while the rest of the band struggle to get their vocals loud enough in the wedges. silver linings, etc….!? aside from all of that, i’m happy to report that my hyperacusis/sensitivity has subsided somewhat (vehicle brakes still cause me to physically wince if they screech too closeby…) and the T continues to bother me less and less, though it is always there if I need it!! 🙂 ok, hope you are keeping well, and hope the European tour was a resounding success! all the best from Brighton, England. xx

    p.s….just one more thing – while i’m aware that everyone is different in terms of sensitivity, it still bothers me a little that you mention you now use “maximum attenuation” – i.e. no “hearing curve”. what are the brand/model that you use? at the moment i’m using ACS Pro27’s, which are supposed to take the low and mid down by about 25-27 and the higher frequencies down by as much as 30-35. is this comparable to your setup, or is there another level I could take my attenuation to? again, many thanks in advance. x

  • Davide

    Hi Roger, i’ve tinnitus and two earplugs type: one of solid rubber like yours and one with a filters provide a flat response at an average attenuation of 23db. Both custom-made.
    I would like to protect my earing more with the solid rubber earplugs but i found they are unstable during the song and especially when i sing. It’s like a fickly music flow, sometimes attenuated, sometimes louder with much less attenuation. The filters one have less protection but they are very stable and i ear a costant music flow.
    Do you have the same problem with your earplugs?
    Thanks for an eventual answer

    • Roger Clark Miller

      Here is the portion of my article that deals with this. I suggest contacting Brookline Hearing Services (Brookline, MA) for details. These earplugs have a feel sort of like silly putty, and do not move once you put them in. It is a major change from the hard type that would work themselves out after 3 or 4 songs of singing, moving the jaw around. From my article:

      “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.”

  • Very long post to casually cover the last two years, part one (2012-2013)Rosstralia | Rosstralia

    […] saw Yo Gabba Gabba! live and I teared up because my beautiful daughter, wearing the Roger Miller-style hearing protectors, saw her first concert and I could feel new synapses being formed and a […]

  • tom grote

    Hello, and think you for helping with this. Our bass player has tinnitus and I’m wondering if there is a headphone system for onstage that helps with this (rather than earplugs). We have individual monitor mix so I thought good isolating headphones with ind. mix would offer max protection and good onstage sound.

    Thx.

  • Jim

    Hi Roger,
    I’ve had pretty extreme tinitus in my left ear since 1998 after a spontaneous, debilitating vertigo attack. At the time, doctors could not figure out what was the cause (although Menier’s was suspected). Eventually, the vertigo went away, but the tinitus remained…

    I’ve recently gotten back into playing (loud) music and want to protect my hearing as much as possible. Earplugs don’t seem to work so good for me. I’m looking at the shotgun headphones and was wondering if you had a recommendation as to a make/model?

    BTW, I always thought you looked pretty cool in those shotgun phones!

    • Roger Clark Miller

      I’m on the road w/Alloy Orchestra and can’t recall the model. They were green, I remember that much! There are a couple styles – I prefer the rounded ones to the square ones, but that was just aesthetics. I recommend choosing the ones with the highest db reduction. At the end of Burma in 1983, even though I was wearing earplugs underneath those phones, the tinnitus still got worse.

      The earplugs I wear now are custom made with a mold to fit my ear canal. They are very effective – much more than the typical foam or “musician’s” ear-plugs. I believe I address this somewhere on the Tinnitus page.

      Best to you and good luck.
      R

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