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Protect Your Hearing!

In late January, right around my birthday, I developed tinnitus, which is ringing in the ears. Subsequent tests showed I had some high-frequency hearing loss in both ears, maybe a little worse in the left. It is said that tinnitus can be caused by the hearing loss. Over the years, I tried to protect my hearing, but admittedly have let it slip at times and a jam in late January was one of those times.

Let me tell you that having tinnitus sucks. It seems that I don't have it as bad as some others, as it does not keep me up at night and it's not constant. I "hear" it at various times throughout the day, most noticeably in the late afternoon after a long day of trying to get things done.

I know a lot of people who do nothing for their ears when around loud music or noises, and I hate to see it. I spent years not doing anything to protect my hearing, and I'm sure that the repeated exposure is what got me where I am today. I think all musicians should use earplugs. The natural acoustic volume of instruments like drums and horns is very loud, and when you throw in other instruments that have to be balanced in the mix with those such as guitar and even voice, that's more than you should subject yourself to for a couple of hours at a show, whether you're in the audience or performing.

Lori and I had custom molded earplugs made for us. I wanted her to get a pair because she had problems getting the generic ones to fit, and was thus less likely to use them. Now, with the custom fit earplugs, they fit her perfectly.

Mine came in Saturday and I had a chance to try them that night at a party with a not-too-loud (but loud enough) band that was playing. The biggest thing that surprised us is how flat they are. I mean, except when I spoke, everything sounded rather normal, and it made us wonder if they were doing anything, until we took them out and heard the difference. Normally, when you put in generic earplugs, they cut out most of the din of the room. With these, the din sounded the same, at least relatively speaking. I can see that as a disadvantage in a sense, but in reality, it's better that they're not coloring the music.

Before I left for the party, I put mine in with the solid adapters. We got them with 15 dB filters and they also come with solid adapters for maximum attenuation. I went over to the drum kit in my studio, and whacked the snare as hard as I possibly could, and it just sounded like a snare, but not as loud. Replacing the solid adapters with the 15 dB filters, the snare was louder, but still very tolerable.

I recommend that every musician get these. Considering how much you pay for other gear, this protection is way worth it, especially because they are so clear and flat. My only complaint is that the little "handles" that make it easier to pull them out rub on a spot on my ear, because of the way my ear is shaped. Lori didn't have that problem and I suspect most people don't.

BTW, I got mine in the same colors as the ones shown on this page right under the text, "ES49 Custom Fit Earplugs."

At the very least, do yourself a favor and get some generic earplugs to protect your hearing. The foam ones are okay, but they aren't flat and I thought they were terrible for listening to music. I do use a pair of foam plugs when working with power tools, mowing the lawn, etc. The generic musician plugs from Etymotic (also available from Westone) and Mack's are pretty good and available for around $10 - $12 a pair, though I think you can buy quantities for less than that. However, if you're a musician or music fan, the custom molded plugs are the best bet. They cost a bit more, but as I said, considering how much you spend on other musical gear, this investment is worth it.

Here are some other resources.

Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers (H.E.A.R.)
American Tinnitus Association
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy

Protect Your Hearing!

Posted 2008 04 22 at 2:41 AM

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