What is that ringing in my ears after a loud concert?

Associate Professor Catherine McMahon

It’s Hearing Awareness Week, so we asked Associate Professor Catherine McMahon, Head of Audiology at Macquarie, to answer a question we’ve all pondered: What is that ringing in my ears after a loud concert?

“The ringing sound is known as tinnitus, an early sign of damage. In most cases, tinnitus will go away after a few hours or a few days, but it is an early warning to protect your ears.

Research now suggests that the early damage from loud noise affects the nerves that respond to loud sounds, not the ones which respond to soft sounds. That means that a hearing test, which tests the softest sounds that you can hear, will look normal, even if it’s not.

Losing your high threshold neurones means that you will have more difficulty understanding what people are saying in a noisy room, like a café or even in your lecture theatres. Ultimately loud noise does cause hearing loss. It increases the risk of hearing loss occurring from an earlier age and the amount of hearing loss, being greater.

Loud music or noise can cause serious and long term damage to the nerves in your ears. For some people, tinnitus does not go away. The difference may be due to genetic differences, where some people are more susceptible to damage from noise. In other cases, the combination of exposure to multiple environmental factors (such as loud noise and cigarette smoke) can increase the chance or the amount of damage to the ear. Constant tinnitus is not easy to live with. While the problem can be improved with therapies designed to reduce the loudness and impact of tinnitus, there is no pill that will stop the ringing.

You can protect your ears with earplugs, which reduce the amount of sound entering the ear. These range from soft foam ear plugs that you can buy from a chemist or supermarket to custom-made earplugs that you can get from a hearing healthcare provider. Which earplugs you choose will depend partly on your noise risk. You can calculate this by using a noise risk app designed by the National Acoustic Laboratories in the Australian Hearing Hub.

During Hearing Awareness Week, Sunday 21 – Saturday 27 August, the Macquarie University Speech and Hearing Clinic will offer all full time Macquarie students fifty per cent off the standard cost of a hearing test. You must book your appointment during this week for the offer to be valid. Custom-made ear plugs are also available at the reduced price of $150 (normally $200).