noise (pop) trauma, ear problems and music withdrawal

(This post has nothing to do with Noise Pop other than the similarity to the phrase “noise trauma”.)

After a couple weeks of thinking I had swimmer’s ear or a persistent ear infection due to a muffled feeling in my ear a doctor told me that I didn’t have an infection or any water or waxy build up, but rather, it was probably noise trauma. It was in my left ear (ironic, given that I was talking lightheartedly about thinking I was losing my hearing in that ear). The doctor’s recommendation: no earphones/ ear buds/ headphones until it started feeling better, come back if it didn’t start feeling better. I hadn’t been to any concerts, near any catastrophically loud (rock concerts, airplanes at close range, guns) events recently, so it seems like it was more likely a more constant moderately high volume, like listening to music on loud buses or streets.

The last couple weeks since that doctor’s visit have been interesting.

(This isn’t your normal, light music blogger fare, so I’ll put a break here and put the rest down there.)

Initially, I was pretty distressed. You see what I do here and the amount of time I devote in some form or other to music. The long term, that this hearing loss might not be temporary was probably most distressing. I really like music (if you haven’t guessed) so that I might not hear it as well as before was not something I could look forward to.

Very soon, I found that being able to listen to no music at work, and only a little at home immediately changed my daily experience. I’m the type of person that often listens to 8-14 hours of music in a day. To go from that to maybe 0.5-2 hours was basically shocking. There was a lot more silence. Listening to Mozart may make you smarter, but at least in my case, music tends to relax and focus me and put some structure to this crazy world. Maybe I’m alone in this, but I suspect that if you like music enough to spend your time reading music blogs, perhaps this is your experience too.

I went on vacation last week. Not having my ipod on the plane was my first hurdle. I’ve become a pro at putting on my favorite albums and zoning out, letting the time pass on often boring plane trips. I also spent about four hours on trains that first day. If there’s one place that’s more suited to having an ipod than an airplane, it’s trains. It was after nightfall, even, so I couldn’t zone out looking at the scenery pass.

Normally on vacation, even when I’m hanging out with friends most of the time, I’ll sneak some music time. While other people are napping by the pool or right before I sleep at night. Here, I wasn’t hearing any music other than the occasional J-pop song in a store, or those annoying musical chimes that were telling me that the doors of the train were closing. (On the other hand, the musical chanting at the Diago-ji temple in Kyoto was very cool.)

I was trying to decide whether to frame these feelings and experiences in terms of an addiction. I definitely felt withdrawal in some sense, but I’m not sure if it had anything to do with adjusted brain chemistry, whether it was actually an addiction; I’d think not, but who knows.

After a few days, my ear did start to feel better. Obviously, I was cautiously relieved. I want to make sure I don’t make it worse, but at the same time, I’m glad it appears to be getting better.

About half way through the week (about a week after the doctors appointment), I was getting more used to less music, but I got a strong craving to listen to some music: “King of Pain” by the Police, particularly. I’m serious. So my first music back from my temporary musical abstinence period was the Sting singing somewhat ambiguously about either depression or a girl.

The longer term changes in my habits follow from this: I’ve made it a rule that I can only listen to ear buds, at least for the time being, in quiet places. Listening to music at work is okay, but not while walking on the street or on loud buses. Most of the transportation system is out, in fact.

The point of this post is just to write about this experience, not to pronounce some moral, but if there were to be one, it’d be: be careful about your ears out there, kiddies. You only get one pair.

2 responses to “noise (pop) trauma, ear problems and music withdrawal”

  1. […] someone who loves music and has had some temporary hearing loss, I can say it’s not a good situation to be […]

  2. […] also reminds me of this time last year when something similar happened. Again, thankfully that was temporary, though it lasted a couple months whereas I’m hoping […]

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