Tinnitus and playing music….

Tinnitus and playing music….

There have been discussions re this before but I thought I might be worth revisiting.

After an ear infection, I’m almost completely deaf in my left ear and I also am prone to bouts of tinnitus. It’s usually a loud hissing noise which isn’t constant but does occur on a daily basis in two to three hour "slots". Some days, more often than others….

As you might guess, this spoils my enjoyment of playing music somewhat especially the fiddle although changing the position towards my chest seems to help. Other instruments aren’t so bad although the volume is obviously not as great as before. The harp is fine as my right ear is usually alongside.

Anyway, I am just wondering about other members’ experience of such things and if you have any tips or advice. For instance, could playing tunes aggravate the situation?
I’ve sometimes tried ear plugs/cotton wool in my left ear when playing the fiddle which seems to help and the sound is less distorted(the higher pitched notes still seem to get through) but I’m presently awaiting hearing aids and purpose built ear plugs(For swimming and shower but they might help with the music too).

I try other "home made" ideas for the tinnitus. Sometimes, I find Pernaton or Vick’s soothing if I rub it around (not inside, obviously) the ear but it’s all trial and error.

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

I recall reading about a tinnitus sufferer that was undergoing a brain operation (unrelated to tinnitus) and during the procedure, the surgeons attempted to find the location in the brain where the tinnitus originated. They located sources in multiple places in the brain with the conclusion that nothing could be done surgically to alter the effect of the tinnitus. Tinnitus sucks, it really does. I have it all of the time and it does affect life negatively. Fortunately for me, mine is the sound of a dentists drill penetrating my skull about two inches - or at least, that’s what it seems to resemble. The only good side is that although it’s always present, it’s pitched far too high to actually intrude into the music I’m playing. That’s not much of a "good" side though.

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

I’m so sorry to hear about your tinnitus. I have it, as it is often something that comes with hearing loss. For me it can vary, and can tend to act up in more stressful situations, but if I’m doing something very enjoyable or a very mentally focused activity, I tend not to notice it as much. I’d say it was most noticeable the first 6 months and now I have been able to adjust.
While it has not affected my enjoyment of music too much, I have moderate hearing in both ears, but there are occasional times where I feel that sounds can be overly harsh. Not so much for fiddle, I would say more with whistles.
EDIT: Although I still have some hearing in both ears, I wanted to share my experience in the hopes that you may be able to adjust to the tinnitus as time goes on.

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

I think maybe you should consult your doctor to see if it’s actually tinnitus or not. Could be a lot of other things like ear wax or the infection is lingering. My own experience of tinnitus is that once it starts it’s always there - does not turn off and turn on. Sometimes I notice it more than others. Like another poster mentioned the first 6 months or so are challenging but then your brain learns to not hear it. A doctor compared it to a bad smell in your house, over time you do not smell because you get so used to it. It can be very upsetting at first but if it is tinnitus you will hopefully learn to live with it. If you have not already, you really need to get the medical people to identify the problem first.

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

I also have tinnitus from 20+ years as a club DJ. I will tell you that my tinnitus is better than it was 20 years ago, which I attribute to quitting the club scene and loud concerts. But it’s still there. It doesn’t bother me at all when playing music, but it will get a bit worse if I sit in a loud session for a few hours. It also seems to have gotten noticeably better after I started living a 100% plant-based diet.

I have a fiddling friend who has tinnitus bad enough that it affects his playing, especially in the upper register. It makes him feel constantly out of tune. So best of luck with getting yours more under control!

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

//I have a fiddling friend who has tinnitus bad enough that it affects his playing, especially in the upper register. It makes him feel constantly out of tune.//

@Reverend .. that makes me think he may have hearing loss too (that being the more likely reason for mis-hearing pitches).

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

I have had tinnitus for about 50 years of my life, thanks to Meniere’s Disease which started unusually early: I lost pretty well all hearing in one ear as a child, thanks to this disease, and then it started in the other ear when I was in my 20s. I had a good period of over 30 years when it was reduced to just non-intrusive background noise after a surgical operation, but then it recurred about 4 years ago and can cause absolutely massive distortion of my appreciation of sound, speech and sense of pitch: it seems to run in cycles of several months, building up until it’s just not worth listening to music or trying to play it as everything is so off-key - but then I’ll wake up one morning and think - oh, I’m back in tune again. Sadly they "don’t do any more" the operation which had proved so successful for me back in the 1980s. I have had a few steroid injections to my "good" ear, but that was more directed at solving the dizzy turns that are part of the same condition and didn’t help the tinnitus.
And it is not possible to "just forget about it" when it is so overwhelmingly loud! I do wear hearing aids in both ears - the one in my deaf ear merely sending signals to my better ear, by the CROS system.
Despite being a tad deaf, I also have hyperacusis, which makes simple household sounds such as cupboard doors shutting, pans and crockery clattering almost reach pain threshold. And any loud noise triggers yet more tinnitus: paradoxically it is quietest for me at night when there is no background noise, though some sufferers find that’s their worst time as they hear it more when it is not masked by ambient noise. But if masking works for you, there are various recordings you can download to play at night-time to get to sleep.

And you can ask your audiologist to put a "music setting" on your aids when you get them, Johnny Jay - also explain to him/her which instruments you play and where they will be in relation to your ears so that they can achieve the optimum settings for you. And also make sure they put the induction loop setting in so that if you go to concerts etc (??? what are they???) you can get the best reception if the hall has an induction loop installed - and working (some of them don’t!!)
There are many online resources and organisations that can help too: Hearing Link, British Tinnitus Association, Deaf Action - and in Edinburgh, I found it very useful to attend free courses run by City of Edinburgh Council on "Managing your hearing loss" and lip-reading classes. (This was before Covid, but they will hopefully start again once it is safe to do so).

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

Thanks for all the responses so far.

Billydog,
I note your comment that it shouldn’t "come and go" but I’m fairly sure that’s what it is. My ears have been examined several times of late and they seem clear of wax although there’s a small crust remaining around the ear drum apparently left from the ear drop antibiotics. The actual infection seems to have gone.
It’s possible that the "crust" is causing issues but the ENT doctor and audiologist reckon it will release itself in due course. They’ve used suction a couple of times but, apparently, there’s still a little piece left which seems quite stubborn.

Trish,

Thanks for all the good advice re the aids and "loop". I was aware of this facility in some concert halls. I believe The QH has one, for instance.
I’m not sure if the audiologist needs to see me personally again but I shall try to make enquiries before the equipment is delivered.

You certainly have had a lot of troubles yourself and my issues seem very minor in comparison.
Take good care and thanks again.

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

Johnny Jay: the audiologist SHOULD see you when the aids are supplied to run through how they work, and make all the various adjustments. (I have experienced this with both private and NHS aids: they don’t just send them out and leave you to get on with it!)

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

Trish,

I thought this should happen too but, from the way she was talking, it seems they are sending them out just now because of Covid. Apparently, I can contact them for advice etc.
She took my e-mail address and phone number and promised to contact me when they arrived in case I wanted to collect them(It can take a week by post!). However, she didn’t say anything about an appointment.

It may be another 3 or 4 weeks now. I already had impressions taken a few weeks ago but they were "lost" by the company… 🙁

I’ll try to make more enquiries about the aids and settings before then though.

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

Ah yes, that could well be true, though my private supplier started doing face-to-face consultations again with PPE before the end of last year. Hope they find your impressions!

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

Thanks.
I got new ones taken earlier in the week.
I gave her a ring today and she’s promised to sort out the music and loop settings for me but it won’t be a face to face appointment yet.

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

This seems to be a common condition, with reference to the posts on here, and to other archived threads.
As a fiddle player, I had to deal with Tinnitus a few years ago (still got it!), and lost a lot of the upper register.

I started to think about the upwards sound projection from a fiddle body, right under my left ear, in my case, and began to play the mandolin, thinking the sound projection wasn’t as direct, and I could transpose the tunes immediately onto the instrument.

That was fairly successful, and still is, but I then also moved down the octaves by buying firstly, a Tenor Mandola, and now Octave Mandola’s. Same fingering ( with some slight mod’s for scale length), and lower in the register, so not so much loss of the higher pitches. And, the tunes have a beauty of their own when played in a lower pitch.

Still keeps the tunes alive, and I can pick up the fiddle every now and again, but I use the musician’s earplugs with sound filters when playing the fiddle.

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

Thanks, Riverrunner.

It’s early days for me yet and I’m still experimenting.
I’m not sure if playing the fiddle aggravates things or not but what I now hear in my left ear sounds a bit irritating. Maybe the hearing aids will help or I could try an ear plug in one ear when it’s made.
The mute helps too but then it’s too quiet for my other ear. As I said earlier, changing the playing position further to the right or even on my chest seems to help too. Like yourself, I’ve found that the fretted instruments don’t upset me as much.

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

All my life it’s sounded like water through pipes. It’s gotten worse as I’ve aged. Now, there are pitches I have trouble hearing at all. One of the main reasons I stopped performing was due to hearing loss.
Sorry, I’ve found nothing that makes it better.

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

Most modern hearing aids now have Bluetooth streaming ability, so a channel can be programmed to play a constant "swishy" sound in the background. The idea is that although you still hear the tinnitus signal, the brain get distracted from perceiving it (and more importantly making you focus attention on it), because it has to listen to the other sound. The object is to be able to habituate to the tinnitus, and so "you" are able to ignore it.

This works with varying degrees of success.

Alternatively, you can stream sounds (or music) straight from an iPhone or Android to the hearing aids.

If you don’t need hearing aids, but still have tinnitus, you also buy in-the-ear noise generators that are worn 24/7, even while you sleep. That’s another option.

There’s a lot of good information here : http://www.tinnitus.org/ by one of the pioneers of tinnitus research, Pawel Jasterboff.

There’s also a nice little app for the PC that plays different sounds of nature :

https://aire-freshener.software.informer.com/2.0/

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

I developed persistent tinnitus a week after getting my first Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine shot in April. Whether it is actually related to the normal inflammation produced by the vaccine is anyone’s guess. I’ll add that the tinnitus is most pronounced on the right, where I have had some hearing loss for a couple of years.

Fortunately it is not a piercing type of sound - a mix of frequencies that is probably above my current natural hearing range. I hear it when it’s quiet around me.

Obviously there is variability to who is susceptible to what, but as a former singer in a rock band who often had no place to stand except directly in front of the drummer, and who left the stage some evenings unable to distinguish one note from the next, I have a hard time seeing how the minimal sound pressure levels produced by a violin could cause tinnitus or cause unpleasant distortion in an otherwise healthy ear.

If the sound of a violin at chin level causes hearing discomfort or distortion, it seems to me that issue is something other than tinnitus, such as ongoing inflammation, or scarring.

From my own experience, which admittedly is just mine, tinnitus isn’t made worse or better - other than masking - by the surrounding soundscape. However, I have had ruptured eardrums in the past that resulted in serious distortion, which went away after the eardrums healed.

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

I have tinnitus. It does come and go - at least as far as volume is concerned. For example, when I took tablets for my tree pollen allergy it turned up the tinnitus like nobody’s business. The allergy itself had turned the tinnitus up, but now that the season is over, my tinnitus is manageable again.

In my case, it’s a whining noise in my right ear. It doesn’t affect my ear for music or my playing but it does stop me sleeping. I use a white noise machine with speakers under the pillow, and/or a cd of birdsong turned very low, and these can help, though it depends on how bad my ear is at the time. I’ve been investigated twice by the hospital, including an ultrasound to see if I had a brain tumour which thankfully proved negative. The only thing one can do - so I was told - is to learn to cope with tinnitus and not let it bother you. Easier said than done, and sometimes I just can’t.

The ear with the tinnitus has less acute hearing but I can still hear. I am sorry to hear about the OP’s problem. I have used kleenex-tissue plugs in both ears for some years when playing and it helps fine down the sound of my fiddle so that it sounds more as others perceive it - I’m not hearing every rasp and scratch. This helps my confidence which improves my playing. Be careful not to get things stuck in your ears though - it might be best to use different more ‘pukka’ ear plugs - but I think some sort of muffling would help.

It would be a good idea to get it checked by the doctor for your own peace of mind, at least once the post-lockdown situation has abated. On occasions in the past having my ears syringed for wax has helped turn down the volume of my tinnitus. I absolutely hated the scan - it nearly deafened me, and anyway I’m claustrophobic - but it was good to know that I didn’t have a tumour.

You could also see what other tinnitus sufferers say in various online groups - find what suits you. For example, it was a comfort for me to find out that others had suffered from the particular pollen-allergy tablets I was taking & had also found a spike in their tinnitus.

Good luck, and do let us know how you get on.
Best wishes, Mollie

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

The phenomenon of external sound causing more tinnitus or increase in volume of it is not down to air pressure but decibels triggering a neurological response known as "recruitment": one or 2 neurones start firing off, then all their mates decide to join in. I could perhaps liken it to what happens with certain types of birds: one starts squawking, so the rest all join in in an ever-escalating crescendo! At its worst it ends up out of all proportion to the initial sound that triggered it.
And nobody knows exactly where tinnitus is located: OK, it may start in, or sound as if it’s coming from, your ears but then become lodged in parts of your brain through neural connections, especially when it is longstanding: it becomes "hard-wired" in. There are loads of very learned papers on the subject which I won’t bother you with here.

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

I have it too. The worst was when I had dilplicusis after an ear infection from the grandkids. My ears were out of tune, 1/4 step different. So depressing! I got it back with a lot of practice and concentration. I now have hear aides, best thing ever. My sense of pitch is SO much better. End of the day, its all good and I’m enjoying music more than ever. The music setting is really great! The sooner you get hearing aides, good ones, the better

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

Loud noise tends to aggravate tinnitus and if you have hyperacusis on top of that even normal household noise is very aggravating. I use Westone ear plugs for concerts, fiddle playing, loud patients at my clinic and around my some-times-crying grandchildren. They are custom molded and have a plug inside the plug that regulates the number of decibels you are hearing with out really changing the pitch. I highly recommend them. They need to be fitted and purchased thru an audiologist.

I have also found swimmer’s silicone wax to be useful to have scattered around for quick use around loud environments when I don’t have my Westone plugs. I also use them in addition to headphone type of hearing protection when I’m working with small engines such as my weedwhacker, lawn mower, etc. Mack’s is a great brand and half the price of buying swimmer’s wax sold at sporting good stores. You can find it on-line or Walmart.

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

Like many others, I developed tinnitus, mine some years after doing my National Service (yes, I’m that old!) in the army. I don’t know why, I was only in tanks. I was told I had to live with it. Some forty years ago, unrelated to the condition, I adopted a vegan plant-based diet, gave up alcohol (I never really smoked) and lost a ton of weight. Much later I became aware that the tinnitus had all but vanished - just a faint hiss in the background which is easily ignored. I was hesitant to write this until I saw that something similar occurred to forum member Reverend. About the same time, my late-onset asthma all but disappeared too. The power of plants?
Michael

Re: Tinnitus and playing music….

//And nobody knows exactly where tinnitus is located//

Hi Trish, according to Pawel Jasterboff, it can emanate from any of the auditory pathways (and that includes the hair cells in the inner ear (cochlea). )

Sounds about right!