Aural fatigue

First of all- I have no medical credentials, I'm just stating my personal thoughts and experiences about hearing. 

Lately I have been traveling a lot- on planes, buses and subway trains.  Until recently I used the time to listen to music, but lately with the staggering amount of travel hours combined with the fact that during shows I use earphones for three hours, eight times a week, I find I've been getting too much information fed directly into my ears for a great part of the day. 

Many musicians have varying degrees of light tinnitus or ringing in their ears by their early 20s.  Often it's only noticeable in extreme quiet, but it is aggravated by exposure to loud sounds, even for shorter periods of time.  I remember when I was around 17 seeing Mr. Bungle in Montreal and ending up by the speaker right when they made a musical channel change into some pretty grating distortion.  Don't get me wrong, it was an amazing show, but I remember having ringing in my ears the next two mornings when I woke up, which haunts me to this day as I think it probably caused some permanent damage.  I did have my hearing tested for a job a few years later and it was still considered normal- but the ear by the speaker was a fraction harder of hearing.

This TIME magazine article talks about how with standard iPod headphones, if you turn your iPod up to maximum you should only really listen for about five minutes a day.  On a plane or a bus, the ambient noise caused by the engines can make it seem like maximum volume isn't so loud anymore.  What really started to get to me was that even avoiding loud music, I still get this feeling of exhaustion on days where I haven't done much more than sit around. 

Although I've had "Musician's earplugs" since I was in high school, I found rehearsal volumes were usually fine, and only really wore them at concerts.  More often, I would wear them when I was in the audience, where the sound was louder than it would be on stage.  I recently got a new pair with less of a decrease in the volume (-15dB), and I've started wearing them on these loud modes of transportation.  The first thing I noticed is I could make out all the distorted announcements over those tinny subway and airplane speakers.  The second thing I noticed was that when I finished traveling and took my earplugs out, I felt refreshed. 


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