Dear Ask The Doctor: Hi. I damaged my hearing at a concert on November 29th. I was in the mezzanine, not near the speakers, so this is strange in itself; I've gone to many concerts in my life and never experienced even temporary pain, muffling, or tinnitus after them. I'm 23 years old. Anyway, for two weeks after that, I took it easy. No music, movies, etc., limited social gatherings with a lot of noise and talking. I was sensitive to doors slamming, etc., and paranoid about losing more hearing than I already had. This occurred where I go to school in Berkeley, CA; I then came home to Bakersfield, CA for winter break. I mention where I went because perhaps the elevation and pressure change is somewhat relevant. Returning home, I thought I'd be fine and resumed normal activities. I went to a bar that played pretty loud music, restaurants that played appreciably loud music, etc. After two days I started having some pain, and sharp reductions in hearing loss, as well as tinnitus, which I had not experienced before. My ears were also clogged, and it became clear I had eustachian tube dysfunction. I've never had allergies before, let alone in my home town, nor any trouble with my ears before the concert. I don't know if there is a connection between the concert damage and ETD, or whether the exposure at the bar etc. contributed to the ETD. I was again sensitive to loud noise, and even though the clogging has mostly gone away now, a few weeks later, I still wince when I'm at the gym and a bar or plate drops, and I'm still reluctant to listen to music, let alone go to the movies, etc. I'm worried on the one hand that maybe I'm being overcautious, but on the other hand after over a month of dealing with hearing loss and other ear symptoms, I am really reluctant to do further irreversible damage to my ears. I'm particularly concerned about tinnitus; I now seem to have, constantly, a kind of low staticy sound in my left ear. I'm stuck in a hard position. Music and film are very dear to me, but so is reading and other quiet activities, hoping to be a historian, and tinnitus could seriously complicate this. I feel like I've done something to my body that has already diminished my life in some way, but I really need to know what I can do safely at this point. ENTs and audiologists have only skirted by the question. I apologize for the long prelude, but my question is that in my situation am I more susceptible to damaging my ears further? Can I listen to recorded music, and can I do this for long periods like I use to? Can I safely watch movies and not have to be paranoid it will either cause another traumatic hearing loss episode or more tinnitus? I can live without concerts, but I don't want to have to forego social gatherings and art experiences. Do people who have damage from one loud noise exposure usually just resume their normal listening habits after that, simply avoiding comparably loud noises in the future? I'd like to stress that I already know that listening to music around 80db can already cause hearing loss. I realize that in our daily lives we're all causing gradual hearing loss that we largely don't notice. What I want to avoid is traumatic, noticeable, debilitating hearing loss, as well as tinnitus. Thanks.
Dear Nick: I understand your concerns about the symptoms you are currently experiencing but I do not think they stem from your exposure to loud music. A single exposure to loud noise is very unlikely to permanently damage your hearing. In fact, I think it is possible that you may have a condition called Meniere's Disease. This condition often has hearing loss, tinitus, a feeling of fullness in the ear as well as dizziness as the key symptoms. Though not all persons experience all the symptoms. Confirmation of this diagnosis can be made by thorough history of your symptoms as well as a physical examination by a ENT specialist. The condition can be treated by various medications or surgery. The prognosis of this condition is directly related to the duration of symptoms so I suggest seeing your doctor as soon as possible! Once you have received the appropriate treatment you may return all your normal social activities with care taken to avoid prolonged exposure to loud noises.