Why I’ve had right ear ringing for 50 years

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Three audiologists have told me that the hearing loss and annoying tinnitus ringing and buzzing in my right ear is common in their adult male clients. Except for farmers. They have tinnitus in their left ear.

Tinnitus is caused somewhat by loud noises, as most people believe, but also by quick percussion sounds when a sudden violent air movement shears off the tiny hearing hairs located within the ear. Those snap percussions are the real culprits.

We’re born with about 30,000 of these little hairs in each ear. Each hearing hair connects to its own private nerve to send signals to the brain describing what sound we’re hearing.

When a hair breaks off and dissolves in the liquid, the nerve remains alive as long as we do, always searching for audio input from its tiny lost hair.

Unlike most other tissue in our bodies, these hearing hairs do not regenerate. As the annoying guy on the car commercial barks, “when they’re gone, they’re gone.”

With no tiny hair to intercept sound waves, the nerve makes it all up and sends continuous signals to the brain that cause a distinct ringing-buzzing sound, and that’s tinnitus.

The term tinnitus is derived from the Latin word tinnire, meaning to ring. I would add to that definition that it’s like ringing on a big sheet of thin tin, at least in my case.

The sharp percussion-like pneumatic shock impulses that do the most hair damage are things like two-cycle engines, firearms, pneumatic tools and of course, drums. I confess that I am guilty of a lifetime addiction to chainsaws, rifles, shotguns, go-karts and a collection of tools driven by my air compressor. I especially love the sound of my two-stroke Yamaha triple sled motor.

And, since most of us are right handed, we often use these devices with the percussion generator right up close to our right ear.

So, why do farmers experience hearing loss primarily in their left ears? It’s because they typically drive their implements with the door open, obviously on the left side of the cab.

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Add that to heavy use of pneumatic tools, and you have the perfect recipe for hearing loss in both ears.

I wear ear protection now, but at age 67, my hearing is history. The car salesman would say, “when it went, it went.”

It’s too late for me to benefit much from some of the new high tech sound suppressing devices, such as the ETY earplugs I’ve been trying.

But there may be people out there who still have something to save.

Etymotic is an American audio technology company that’s been developing passive and active electronic devices to protect and enhance human hearing for more than three decades.

Although it has hundreds of audio-related patents, two are especially applicable to farm and construction scenarios.

The simple ETYPlugHD is a highly refined passive earplug that sells for a modest US$12.95 a pair. I tried a pair that I was given by the company. I used them for about an hour while working with my Stihl MS362 chainsaw.

I would say they did a better job than any conventional foam plug in terms of keeping noise out of my ears. However, when chain sawing, I now use ear plugs along with the earmuffs attached to my hard hat, so the real benefit was not significant. I would say the benefit would be quite significant for a person in a noisy work environment without earmuffs, such as driving a farm implement.

These entry-level passive earplugs are built with an internal tuned resonator and acoustic resistor. Together, these unique items replicate the natural re-sponse of the ear canal. Etymotic’s proprietary system reduces decibel levels evenly across the frequency range without changing the sound quality.

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As a result, noise from tools, machinery, vehicles and human speech are clear, but softer.

Total reduction with the ETYPlugHD is 20 dB through all frequencies, says the company. In contrast, foam earplugs reduce the high frequencies, resulting in muffled sound and difficulty in understanding human speech. The lower pitch sound waves, such as diesel motors, sneak through the foam plugs.

Moving up to the HD.15 high-definition electronic earplugs at a list price of US$299 for a pair, we enter a whole new realm of digital assistance in helping protect our hearing.

These battery-operated earplugs present no barrier to damaging sound waves when such sound waves aren’t a threat.

With the electronic plugs installed, the person hears everything normally.

However, when noise suddenly exceeds the safe level, electronic protection kicks in automatically to block dangerous sounds. Especially important is the fact that these earplugs provide protection from the loud sudden impact noises that can break off the hearing hairs.

An important feature is the enhancement mode in which loud sounds are blocked, but soft sounds such as a human voice are amplified up to five times.

Natural hearing is instantly re-stored when sound returns to safe levels.

  • you can talk with your normal speaking voice 80 dBA
  • have to speak in a raised voice 87 dBA
  • have to use a very loud voice 93 dBA
  • have to shout 99 dBA
  • tractor (without cab) 92 dBA
  • ride-on lawn mower 92 dBA
  • grain dryer 102 dBA
  • chain saw 106 dBA
  • 82 dBA 16 hours
  • 85 dBA 8 hours
  • 88 dBA 4 hours
  • 91 dBA 2 hours
  • 94 dBA 1 hour
  • 97 dBA 30 minutes
  • 100 dBA 15 minutes

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