I love hearing but I hate earplugs. It's a predicament I'm sure is shared by most of the live-music community. I've tried to wear those fluorescent pieces of foam that constantly fall out, prevent you from talking to friends, and make it seem like you're listening underwater. I usually decide that Jake Cinninger's guitar solo is more important than my long term hearing and pull those bad boys out of my ears.
But you've also probably experienced ringing in your ears hours after a concert. That's called tinnitus and it's the perception of sound when there really isn't any. According to the American Tinnitus Association, more then 50 million people in the U.S. have some form of tinnitus.
"It's a phantom auditory sensation like phantom limb pain when an arm is cut off, and you feel pain in that missing limb," said Richard Salvi, a leading tinnitus expert and director of the Center For Hearing and Wellness at the University at Buffalo in New York. "Much the same seems to happen when you have tinnitus."
Concerts typically have a sound level of about 110db, which is considered unsafe.
Plenty of earplugs won't fully compromise the music, with some costing well over $100 a pair. Fortunately, a friend recently turned me on to Ear Love, very affordable earplugs (about $16 a pair) that are also comfortable, visually subtle, and lower sound levels by 20db without losing much quality. They also come in various colors in a nifty carrying case.
Metallica's Lars Ulrich, who suffers from tinnitus (what a surprise), has been spreading the word about preventing ear damage.
"If you get a scratch on your nose, in a week that'll be gone," Ulrich said. "When you scratch your hearing or damage your hearing, it doesn't come back. I try to point out to younger kids ... once your hearing is gone, it's gone, and there's no real remedy."
So I've decided my New Year's resolution isn't about losing 20 pounds or only eating organically (not bad ideas, actually). I'm giving my ears some love instead.