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Tinnitus, hearing damage, drumming, decibels, earplugs.  

 

My experience

Your hearing / tinnitus

Loud sounds are a serious threat to your inner ear; the area where sensitive hair cells sense the movement of a liquid vibrating in a narrow corridor ("cochlea"; 10 in drawing) actuated by the ear drum (or tympanic membrane (4)). Consider these hair cells as a forest being slapped by strong winds….. There is a moment that the cells get so overstressed (not the hair) by the “winds” that they give up. Gently rubbing your skin for hours will cause an irritated reddish skin which, if it gets the time to recover, will build a protective but much less sensitive layer like a callous on your feet or drum-hands! It is evident and proven that this is the main cause for the hearing loss for high pitched sounds and for tinnitus.
   

My father suffered from tinnitus at a young age too but I must say that he ran a motorcycle workshop, which meant at that time, loud sounds many times a day.

When I read: “Tinnitus can have many different causes, but most commonly results from otologic disorders - the same conditions that cause hearing loss. The most common cause is noise-induced hearing loss, resulting from exposure to excessive or loud noises”, then I need to confirm this. Some 10% of people seem to suffer from some kind of tinnitus. The percentage rises to some 45% for elderly people. In this Inibara website section read more about hearing damage, tinnitus threat and what you can do to effectively avoid it.

 

   

Wikipedia definition:

Tinnitus (ti-NIGHT-us or TIN-i-tus[1]) is the perception of sound in the absence of a corresponding external sound. It can be perceived in one or both ears or in the head. Tinnitus is the Latin word for "ringing"[2], and usually it is described as a ringing noise, but some describe it as a buzzing, humming, or whistling sound, tunes, or songs. [3]. It has also been described as a "whooshing" sounds, as of wind or waves [4].

Tinnitus is not itself a disease, but an unwelcome symptom resulting from a range of underlying causes, including ear infections, foreign objects or wax in the ear, and injury from loud noises, as may have been experienced by war veterans (bombardments, shelling, etc.).

 

 

My tinnitus

Myself, being 55 years old in 2006, am suffering from tinnitus for some 15 years or so. “My” tinnitus consists of a permanent  beep or whistle; extremely high pitched (12.000 Hz) for both ears approximately at the same level. I do not hear any high pitched sounds above this 12.000 Hz which in itself is not strange for a person of my age. The level varies from “acceptable”, with which I mean that I “can-live-with-it” to a level that cuts a lot of fun out of my life. The first few years I was not well aware what influenced the level. Later I found out that stress has much to do with it. To give an example: When you run into a traffic jam and start getting angry, or worrying about not arriving in time then that’s the perfect formula to run around with an exhausting beep at least until you had a good rest. Since I had a full time job this meant that when such things happened on Monday that the high level beep went on until the following weekend. If the weekend was tiring too (I had younger kids then) the beep went on and on and on…..

Until I started to malfunction….. Periods of rest suppressed the worst level of beeping so I slowly started learning how to (partly) “steer” the level. In short: The last 12 years I am working part time 34 hrs/week (generally making shorter days of 6-7 hours) and working with a slightly different mentality (what we can’t do today we will try to do tomorrow…..). Or taking two afternoons off per week giving the idea of having three weekends a week ! I also quit the African persussion band I was in named “Percussion Inibara” (once reknowned as a white African percussion band in the Netherlands). And I stopped giving dun-dun lessons. Not so much because my hearing reacted too strongly to the noise but more because the evenings were so tiring and the morning after I was not recovered which kept the beep going on. At that time I started calling the beep my “steam whistle” since it signalled an overpressurized  brain and body…….. By taking these measures I could better live with it. Of course the whole thing was examined by specialists to identify the kind of tinnitus I have. The result: Nothing could be done for it! I warn you drummers and other possible victims not to be optimistic or imprudent. Only some rare cases of tinnitus can be (partly) solved. And it is prudent if you do not risk your hearing. Stay away from loudspeakers in discos, use MP3 players with care and protect yourselves, especially when drumming inside.

 

If I clap in my hands the beep level jumps up for a few seconds and then starts fading away until the everlasting “default” level. For me and according to the literature it is clear that loud sounds; hearing damage and tinnitus are very often linked.

 In 2006 journalist Maria Goos wrote about her tinnitus in the national Dutch journal “Volkskrant.” Although she wrote hundreds of columns on a large variety of items, she later wrote that her article on living with tinnitus was the article that caused the most reactions to one of her columns ever!!

Also she wrote about the need to slow down, to limit alcohol consumption, late nights and so on…… This seemed to be recognized by thousands of sufferers …….

 

My drumming career and tinnitus

I often questioned myself if the fact that I started drumming caused my tinnitus. It started some 14 years ago. It may have speeded up things but also at a younger age my ears suffered, playing (as a child) and, later, helping my father and his personnel in his motorcycle workshop. Driving a noisy Citroën 2CV Camionette for seven years didn’t help either! Noisy (but funny) things !

Bedtime 1955 or so. Listening Fats Domino ?

In front of my fathers new motorcycle shop

Creating stereo sound from my moms Pick Up. 1966 or so

When I started to follow djembé and dun-dun lessons it was inside, in a small, poorly sound protected basement. Of course I started experimenting with earplugs there, but none of them allowed me to enjoy my music! Many years (!) later, I discovered ones that not only were designed for musicians but also made this true; most earplugs didn’t (see: earplugs). I joined Percussion Inibara; a band rehearsing 50 times per year and of course also doing concerts. After two years I started giving dun-dun lessons myself. This was always indoors. It was good fun playing with this band!! We really made good Mandingue style percussion music and I can proudly say that almost all ex-band members are still active as high level percussionists. Four or five have their own percussion school. They give workshops and lessons. So we enjoyed playing and arranging our songs. I wore good hearing protectors then, except if we were playing in large rooms or outside!

 

On the road; repair of noisy Citroen 2CV 1970

Forging (for fun) and not always wearing earplugs !

With kids, 1984 or so

Protecting your ears against tinnitus and hearing loss

About sound and decibels

Outside, the energy level from a sound source goes down by a factor eight (23) if you move away a factor of two. So standing away from a sound source 2 meters instead of 1 brings down the energy of these sounds on your ears by a factor of 8. So simply getting away helps a lot … outside. Inside, the sounds are reflected against walls, specially if they are hard, even and close….. and hearing protection, apart from playing less loudly, may be the only solution. However your own instrument (being closest to your ears) is the worst danger. And of course standing away from your fellow musicians does not make for a good communication between the rhythms. So it is better to reduce the total sound level on your ears while keeping your fellow musicians near by.

Those of the drumming community having played outdoors know that it costs a lot of muscle energy to make your drum sound as loud as indoors and also to hear your fellow musicians instruments. It is clear that African drums (including the wooden slot drums “Krin”) were never invented to be played in concrete cellars, basements, unfurnished rooms and so on …. They are meant to be played outside and to gather crowds to join an event or even to transmit rhythms (with their message or meaning) from one village to another.

Small rooms with hard surfaces, with a number of djembé and dun-dun players of which a part hammer the bells of dun-duns as hard as they bang the drum itself is a perfect formula for hearing damage.

Drumming in a large room of which at least half of the walls, floor or ceiling is covered and dampened with cloth will help a lot. That’s how Percussion Inibara prepared the rehearsal rooms which at the same time made them perfect for recordings.

Very high and very low pitched sounds are not noticed as well by human hearing so we tend to over-energize producing these sounds. Over activated “active” sub-woofers in discos or at home or in cars and MP-3 players will asure that millions of people will suffer from a hearing loss and in many cases combined with tinnitus. 

Hitting the dun-dun bells with a 20 cm long thinner rod (4 mm) instead of heavier 5, 6 mm nails is a good preventive measure you can take. Slide a thin rubber hose (automotive shop) over one end to create a thicker part “handle” so that it does not slip out of your hand. This thinner rod saved my ears from too much noise when teaching people to play the duns…. ; it also protected the hearing of my pupils and makes the music sound more the way it is meant to sound (more drums than bells!).

 

Promotional picture for our workshops

Playing djembe (centre) 1998 or so

Decibel

One decibel is one-tenth (deci) of a "Bel." If the energy level of a sound arriving at the ear doubles, the amount of decibels go up by three. So 83 dB has twice the energy (to damage your hearing) than 80 although the numbers itself indicate only a small difference!! This means that a sound going up from 60 dB to 70 dB goes up in energy by (almost) a factor ten. From 60 dB to 90 dB by a factor of 10x10x10=1000!! What is bad is that it is by far not experienced as a sound sounding 1000x louder!! Your ears are bad warners; keep that in mind!

The effect of hearing protectors is expressed in decibels, too. Earplugs dampening 20 dB will make the energy level in your ears 100x lower. The problem of most ear-plugs is that they do not dampen the low, mid and high pitched sounds in an equal way. Music then is experienced as if it is heard from another neighbouring room the bass comes through the high pitched sounds or filtered out. If no special attention is paid to the “musical qualities” of ear plugs, using them will take out the joy of listening and playing music.

Hearing protection

Read the decibel section first! Hearing protectors come with leaflets indicating the level they bring down the sound level for L(ow) R(ange), Mid Range and High Range. All tend to overdampen the high range. See the specs of the North Sonic II protectors (sold in a Music shop!!)

Difference between dampening is 20 dB !! High pitched sounds are taken out.

 

Foam plugs do help IF well inserted in your ear. Roll – squeeze it until it is very thin (see image far right). Then pull back your right ear auricle (“flap”) by passing your left arm behind your head and pulling the auricle back. This enlarges the auditory canal which allows you to quickly slip in the plug. It will start foaming up and closing the canal. The good thing is that it helps; the bad thing it helps too much for high pitched sounds so the sound you experience is muffled and does not sound like music anymore ……… If plugs dampen 28dB in the high pitched range and 20 dB for the bass sounds then the “highs” will be heard ten times louder!! This will realy muffle the sound. Compare the bass and treble knobs of an amplifier

Generally they are able to cover a range of 12 dB from fully opened to fully closed. And you know what dramatic effect that has on the sound. Earplugs are fine to protect children (if well inserted) but musicians will throw them out. Earplugs dampen (if well inserted around 30 dB which is too much to limit a sound that most people experience as loud but bearable. Earplugs for playing in an African drum band should not go above 20 dB. Where 10-15 dB is optimal and gives good protection.

Moldex ear plugs and coupled Moldex plugs. A reasonable buy.

Moldex Jazz band ear plugs. Quick to put on and off.

EAR Classic type. Disposable (but re-usable) traditional ear plugs. Dampening too high, dampening not flat.

 

Although they tend to dampen much too much, foam-plugs are within everyones budget. Generally they can be re-used many times. Some foam plugs have a flatter dampening pattern than others. If you have little to invest then the ones shown in the picture at the left are fair compared to the yellow ones at the far right. The ones I like the most are from Moldex. A manufacturer of ear protection devices selling world wide. I like their "Jazz-band 6700 type" much better http://www.moldex-europe.com/en/ (see picture on the right) because of its limited (22 dB) average dampening factor and it can be put in and taken out in a split second. http://www.moldex-europe.com/download/en/Moldex_Hearing1_en.pdf

I also tried universal earplugs of which the manufacturer claims they are meant for musicians. They still have some homework to do concerning comfort and dampening factors (not flat). For instance the North Sonic II earplugs are said to be designed for musicians (on the picture slightly modified). Self mouldable silicone earplugs have a very unflat dampening factor and do not work if the plug is "leaking".

Not satisfying self mouldable silicone earplugs.

Non-flat dampening pattern of silicone earplugs.

A German trade company serves the whole world with "HiFi" earplugs. Dampening pattern is not as flat as one would wish but, considering the price, reasonable. For less then Euro 25,00 you can be protected. http://www.earplugs.de/Cont/Plugs/MusicSafe-III.asp

Tables shown below from the Music safe website.

Music Safe earplug traded by www.earplugs.de Non-flat dampening pattern but acceptable and cheap.

Dampening characteristics of Music safe earplugs with purple filters  shown left.

Dampening characteristics of more expensive custom made Elacin/Sensaphonics ER15 earplugs.

Custom made quality earplugs

By far the best thing to do for a drummer is to invest in Elacin/Exinore (Sensaphonics in US) individual (custom made) earplugs fitted with ER15 filters. In Europe they sell for around €170. In the US probably around $170-200.

Exinore ER-15

The ER-15 fitted earplugs are realy the best buy for drummers since dampening is completely flat and thus effective for all frequencies. ER-9 filter does insufficient dampening at 500-1000 Hz which is where a lot of drumming is in.

I use ER15 already for seven years now and for more than drumming alone (motorcycle, do-it-yourself, sleeping in noisy hotels).

They also sell the ER-20S universal type earplug which are of course a lot cheaper but are less comfortable and have dampening factors that varies up to 10 dB over the frequency range (see graph on the right for data on ER9, ER15, ER25 and ER20S).

There are electronic ear-plugs. Of course a lot more expensive than the ones mentioned above and are meant to reduce the sound level produced by a band. At the same time these plugs receive sound from a pre-amplifier and allow the musician to hear the music as it is produced by the band and heard by the audience (but better and less loud).

Considering the dampening factors: Listening to a good headset changes little to the original recorded (or produced) sound. But listening in a room changes a lot. Walls, floors, carpets, (many) people and open doors affect acoustics a lot more than a few decibels per frequency. So loosing or "winning" a few decibels left or right does not matter. 

Overview Elacin sales points per country: http://www.elacin.nl/elacin_en/index.html

For US directly go to the Sensaphonics website http://www.sensaphonics.com/prod_erseries_customs.html which offers the same (custom made) ER9 and ER15 earplugs.

Links on tinnitus

In english:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tinnitus

http://www.oorsuizen.be/index_EN.htm

 

In Dutch:

http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tinnitus

http://www.nvvs.nl/index.php?s_page_id=10

http://www.oorsuizen.be/

http://orkestengehoor.nl/ (met heel veel info en links) 

 

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Good luck; enjoy drumming, protect yourselves and specially do not forget your  children. It is not their fault that you enjoy loud music !

© Gerard van Dyk, january 2015 (except for the Wikipedia text)

(with thanks to Reverend R. Clark for his proofread and for correcting my English !)

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