Deriving from the Latin word ‘Ringing’, tinnitus is a condition that affects our hearing and can become so severe that musicians can no longer play their instruments.
This article explains what tinnitus is, how it is caused, and how to prevent it as a drummer,
WHAT IS TINNITUS?
The human ear is a remarkable instrument consisting of the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. Between these three components, the ear can take the sound waves that it catches and turn them into electrical signals that the brain can compute as sound. Unfortunately this incredible organ can be damaged by the very thing that it is designed to detect.
Many of us have experienced temporary tinnitus after a concert, detected as a ringing in the ears that disappears by the following morning. If this noise exposure continues then permanent damage can occur.
One symptom is the damage of the tiny hair cells in the inner ear resulting in the loss of hearing of certain frequencies. This can occur in the frequencies of human speech, meaning that hearing parts of a conversation become difficult.
A second symptom of noise exposure is tinnitus. This is caused by the damaged hair cells transmitting a new signal to the brain. If this new signal is perceived by the brain as a sound, then a constant sound will be experienced inside the sufferer’s head, often in the form of a high pitched ringing or buzzing.
According to the BTA (British Tinnitus Association),“Mild tinnitus is common, about 10 per cent of the UK adult population have it all the time and, in up to one per cent of adults, this may affect their quality of life.”
Obviously, as drummers, we stand a greater chance of being in that one percent due to the fact that we smack things with bits of wood to create loud noises. Add to this, the environments of noisy gigs, deafening rehearsal rooms, and guitarists who think that Spinal Tap’s guitar amp volume 11 is actually a good idea, and we have a real need to take action before permanent damage is caused.
WHAT IS TOO LOUD?
When working out if your environment is too noisy, the BTA says, “There are two easy ways to do this: If you are exposed to noise that afterwards leaves you with ringing in the ears then it is too loud. This ringing in your ears (technically this is tinnitus) represents a condition called temporary threshold shift and indicates that your hair cells are exhausted from too much noise.”
The second way is whether you can hold a conversation or not. A rough guide for background noise levels depending on ability to talk is shown below:
- Loud Voice at 4ft – 93dB
- Shout at 4ft – 99dB
- Shout at 2 ft -105dB
- Impossible even close to listener’s ear – Over 110dB
The theory says that for every 3dB increase synapse xt in sound intensity, the safe time of exposure to that sound halves!”
This means that as 85db are considered safe for a full working day (8 hours), then the decibel increase and safe exposure time would look like this:
85db – 8hrs
88db – 4hrs
91db – 2hrs
94db – 1hr
97db – 30mins
100db – 15mins
103db – 7.5mins
106db – 3.75mins
There is currently not a cure for tinnitus so once the damage is done, it is here to stay.
Eddy Temple-Morris, BTA Ambassador, DJ, Producer and Presenter says, “If you are an employed musician, the Control of Noise at Work Regulations (2005)made employers responsible for the assessment, management and reduction of noise in the workplace, including the provision, where appropriate, of suitable hearing protection. So any “employed” musician should now have access to advice, suitable hearing protection and/or other forms of noise reduction.”
That is all well and good, but many of us are freelance or amateur drummers without the luxury of someone looking out for our health. Therefore the responsibility lies with you.