Over the next months, I will be uploading some commonly viewed FAQs from MusiciansClinics.com. This is the website of the Musicians’ Clinics of Canada, and was completely updated over the last Christmas holidays. I should have entitled it “What I did over the Christmas holidays”! A full range of FAQs will eventually cover pretty much everything we know about music and the prevention of hearing loss.
Feel free to submit other questions that can be answered in 4-5 sentences and I may include them in future posts…
Other than hearing loss, what else can happen as my hearing gets worse?
In some sense, hearing loss is the least of your worries. After all, it is very gradual, and only affects the very high pitched sounds… so you may not notice it for years to come. But, with hearing loss comes two other things that can be very annoying- or if you are a musician, can be career ending. They are pitch perception problems and permanent tinnitus. Pitch perception problems, as the name suggests, means that a person with a significant hearing loss may hear one note as another (and have limited understanding for speech). And can you imagine having a constant hum or whistle in your head day and night? This is what many people report with permanent tinnitus. So,… prevention of hearing loss is where it’s at.
People who cannot tolerate even moderately loud sounds can be suffering from hyperacusis. It can be associated with an inner ear hearing loss. That is, not only are soft sounds too soft, but loud sounds are too loud. If there is a hearing loss, special hearing aids can be recommended that not only make soft sounds louder, but more importantly, loud sounds softer. For those with normal or near normal hearing, there is some controversy in the field. Some feel that earplugs can be useful. Others feel that earplugs are bad since they can exacerbate the reduced tolerance for loud sounds. Type in “hyperacusis” to any search engine for more information or contact the American Tinnitus Association (www.ata.org).
What about hyperacusis?
Hyperacusis is an awful sounding word meaning an “abnormal sensitivity to loud sound”. People may complain that “medium sounds are OK but loud sounds that don’t bother most people, seem to bother me!” This is actually an early warning sign of hearing loss. That is, not only does sound have to be a bit louder in order to hear, but also the tolerance to loud sounds is reduced. Most modern hearing aids are specially designed to not only amplify softer sounds but make louder sounds softer. Many people with hyperacusis have a hearing loss. On rare occasions, some people with normal hearing have hyperacusis as well.
Are pitch perception problems caused by damage to the inner, middle or outer ear? Are they permanent?
Pitch perception problems can be caused by either a significant inner ear problem or a problem in more central structures of the brain. Indeed, perfect pitch is a brain phenomenon, and has little to do with the hearing mechanism. Once there are pitch perception problems, little can be done to help the situation. Prevention is mandatory.