Ears after 20 years of rock gigs
I’ve regularly gone to loud rock gigs for at least 20 years, some of which I played at. As a teenager I realised I’d need to wear earplugs to have any hearing left by my 40s, after a few too many nights at the London Astoria (RIP) standing near the front with the PA just to my left. Deeply uncool, but I got over it. I had very mild, forgettable tinnitus that had never caused me any significant problems, except for a spike in my mid-20s that made me double down on earplugs.
A couple of weeks ago I didn’t wear earplugs for a loud gig, including being on stage for one song. I had them in my pocket, but decided not to wear them, for reasons I can’t really explain. Big, big mistake! The tinnitus is louder, and hasn’t gone away this time.
Tinnitus due to cochlear damage is incurable, but on the advice of my GP I went to get a hearing test, to rule out treatable damage to the eardrum or middle ear as a cause; and also because I was interested in how bad my accumulated hearing loss is. I had a sense that my left ear is a bit worse than my right, but otherwise I felt that my hearing is basically fine.
Anyway, it turns out I was right on both counts. Hearing in the 0–20 dB range is considered normal, and both my ears are in that range, though my left ear is almost exactly 10 dB worse than my right. The audiologist told me he was amazed, given what I had told him about my fondness for rock music: he was expecting to see the line going steeply down and to the right above about 1000 Hz. But in a way it is bad news for me: if there is hearing loss, tinnitus can be ameliorated with a hearing aid, but my hearing is fine; and there is no treatable physical issue. I learned that some of his patients have reported improvement up to 6 months after the noise exposure; but whatever I hear by the end of February next year is going to be with me forever.
In conclusion: earplugs work. But you have to wear them every single time.
Audiograms below for the morbidly curious – left (blue, crosses) then right (red, circles). The chevrons on the left ear audiogram are for “bone, unmasked” as opposed to “air, unmasked”, but the same equipment was used throughout so I don’t know what the deal is there.