If you ask people about the relationship between metal music and tinnitus, or indeed if you look it up, you get a lot of things about how listening to loud music can damage your hearing. And that is true…But for a range of reasons, not just loud music, a number of our followers have experiences of tinnitus. We have been talking to them about this and what might help, in the context of our shared love of heavy metal.

A few people shared that there might be a taboo about hearing loss and tinnitus in the metal community, because there is some reluctance perhaps to accept the potential consequences of listening to loud music. As a result someone told us that they found it difficult to connect with others in the metal community about this. But when we asked more directly, quite a few people came forward, about half of them referenced loud music as a potential causal factor in their tinnitus:

  • I find sound (music, podcasts, white noise at night) helps me manage it although it is mild and not noticeable much unless I ‘check in’ with it or I am really tired
  • I used to wear white noise in ear devices
  • What helps me is using noise cancelling headphones when listening to music, and ear defenders at gigs. I have had it all my life so I have no idea what silence sounds like.
  • To start with I found it difficult to listen to music as the tinnitus made it sound odd. Over time I’ve got used to the volume that I need to hear it at (too quiet and the tinnitus takes over, too loud and it makes it worse afterwards). I also wear special music safe ear plugs to go to gigs. I find that low level noise is the worst thing, machines at work, low level conversation or quiet music/TV. I think the trick is to experiment to get the level right.
  • Hearing aids can relieve it. Stress makes it feel worse. I find it difficult to listen to music as I was born deaf and have tinnitus in one ear, so I can only have it really loud. If I listen in an enclosed space like the car I can feel it too. Feeling the sound can take some getting used to, but it is like full immersion into sound rather than just hearing it.

Gareth, who originally contacted us, was happy to share his story and we were pleased with it’s hopeful outcome:

“So, I’m 46 and have been seriously into music since I was about 13. I was a classic late ’80s metalhead with a mullet and a battle jacket (terms we never used back then!) and a collection of Iron Maiden cassettes taped off my mates, complete with photocopied covers. After that I went down the rabbit hole … indie, goth, industrial, post-punk, rave, techno, jungle, dubstep, experimental music etc … eventually finding my way back to metal in my thirties. The stuff I’m into now is mostly tech / prog metal – Meshuggah, Periphery, Rivers of Nihil, that sort of thing.

As well as listening to a lot of music, up until a few years ago I was a bedroom producer, so I’ve spent a lot of my life with headphones on. On the other hand, I’ve never been a massive gig-goer. In terms of other possible predisposing factors for tinnitus, anxiety has been a constant companion throughout my life, and at times I’ve certainly met diagnostic criteria for OCD and social anxiety. There is a strong family history of anxiety and autistic traits on my mum’s side, as well as a tendency to somatise. Since 2000 I’ve had something called visual snow syndrome. This came on suddenly after a very difficult experience at Glastonbury – a combination of too many drugs and being ostracised by my ‘friends’. Interestingly 60% of people with VSS also have tinnitus, so I guess I should be thankful I’ve escaped it for so long! One of the things my experience with VSS has taught me is that adjustment / habituation to sensory conditions is possible (in fact, probably inevitable, given enough time) and knowing that has helped me cope since the appearance of tinnitus.

Since we exchanged messages around Christmas, I’ve made contact with Adam (HMT roadie), and I’ve also begun listening to music again. For a year I hadn’t really tried – I was terrified that I would find the tinnitus distracting, or that it would make the tinnitus worse. It’s still early days, but at the moment I’m finding neither of these things to be true, and in fact the tinnitus is bothering me less than it was, since I’m not experiencing it as having stolen something from me which I really value. Adam has given me some really good advice about which headphones to use. I suspect that a big part of dealing with this condition long term is going to be judicious use of technology, and avoiding devices which deliver poor quality sound (harsh, blaring, tinny etc).”

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