Walk down any street in Austin and you’re bound to hear the reverberations from some of the best music in the nation. But when those sounds reach 130 decibels—as they have at Gruene Hall and Austin Music Hall—excited fans are unwittingly putting themselves at risk for a condition called tinnitus, a ringing (or any other sound) in the ears that, for some, can be loud and relentless. It can also disrupt lives. If you’re a music fan and a fitness enthusiast, there are a few things you should consider about tinnitus and your hearing health.
Fitness requires focus; pushing to the body’s limits demands attention and determination. It’s often necessary to tune out life’s stressors in order to harness your inner power and work harder. But if you have tinnitus, concentration will certainly be interrupted, which can negatively impact a workout or training session.
Nearly 50 million people in the U.S. experience tinnitus to some degree; 10 million of those people describe their tinnitus as being too loud; and about two million are virtually disabled by it. An ear-splitting rock concert may cause temporary tinnitus, and some Austin venues actually hand out hearing protection. Even with this protection, the steady stream of music piped directly into people’s ears through, for example, iPod earbuds and Bluetooth headphones, combined with the normal stressors of life magnifying what’s happening in the body, people can still end up with tinnitus.
Listening to iPods with earbuds during workouts will only compound the effects of tinnitus, since using these devices and others like them can habitually affect people’s ears and hearing similarly to acoustic trauma from loud noises. Limiting the output of an iPod to approximately 60 percent of its maximum volume and reducing listening time can help. But most people don’t want to limit their enjoyment. Those folks should try custom-fit earbuds that allow them to experience the nuances of music at a lower, safer volume. Custom-fit earplugs direct the sound to the ear more efficiently than generic earbuds; they also slip less, and there is less need for loud volume, both of which make for healthier ears.
For those with tinnitus who seek a quiet, music-free workout, some forms of sound therapy provide gentle music or white noise to help mask or draw attention away from the tinnitus. More advanced sound therapy systems, such as the handheld SoundCure Serenade device, are helping patients find relief from these symptoms. Serenade is meant to be used when the person’s tinnitus is bothersome. This may occur at any time, but tinnitus is often most disturbing during the evening when things are relatively quiet.
Serenade uses soft tones (known as S-Tones) that are customized to each patient, so that the treatment tone is matched to the person’s unique tinnitus sound. They are also amplitude modulated at a specific rate to stimulate neural activity in the brain. Research suggests that this form of sound therapy refocuses the brain, “giving it something different” to pay attention to.
Serenade use is intended to facilitate habituation, or the perception of more frequent periods of “quiet” from the tinnitus, thus allowing the user to have a pleasant workout without the added stress or distraction of the tinnitus sound.
Part of what exacerbates tinnitus is the endless loop of hyper-monitoring; once people hear the sound, they anticipate hearing it repeatedly. With S-Tones, the tinnitus may or may not go away quickly, but the hope is that it will go away through habituation. This helps the patient to break the habit of “looking” for his or her tinnitus and to gradually experience relief and calmness.
Remember: Fitness and health isn’t limited to six-pack abs and well-defined calves. Your ears deserve your care and attention just as much! So pack those earplugs for ACL and Formula One!