Ear troubles and recovery with violin still singing in the air
Hello Violin community,
I'm an adult beginner student with one year of happy and frustrating violin learning under my belt, thanks to covid19. I was wondering if you've had any ear troubles like pain and tinnitus and how long you had wait to start practicing again with ear plugs. I've had occasional pain in my ears and tinnitus but since last week, it has gotten worse so much so that any sound at all just sent my ears on overdrive. I immediately bought etymotic er20 ear plugs and have been using them since 3 days. I still can't wear headphones and listen to meetings, music or anything without discomfort. And I practiced lower notes yesterday rather than the high frequency notes in Gluck's melody I've been learning since 10 days. I will consult an ENT next week but I would like to hear about your experience. I can't bear the thought of not playing violin or listening to music.
Please explain what you mean by "ears in overdrive." Too sensitive to sound? Pain? I have multiple ear problems and wear bilateral hearing aids. I think the ENT should be able to give good advice if they are knowledgeable about the effects of covid.
Thank you for your reply. I've been sensitive to sound for a long time, I think. But pain and pulsatile tinnitus is new. By "ears in overdrive", I meant that even a refrigerator hum or a very distant birdsong increased my pulsatile tinnitus and pressure in my ears that day.
I see, forgive my misunderstanding, my reading lacks poetic understanding!
This is not related to your tinnitus, but there is an on-line hearing test that I have used and that gave me the same result (using over-the-ear headphones) as professional audiographs:
The online test doesn't test many things that the audiologist will such as speech discrimination and how well the tympanum responds to sound pressure. The audiologist testing takes about 2 hours. The settings of the hearing aids are more complex too, as they allow for compression, aiming of the microphones and other adjustments as well. There is more to it than matching the audiogram.
I have tinnitus and my ears get "over-driven" at times. Seeing your doctor is key. I take certain snake-oil supplements, but I got fitted earplugs made that I use whenever I play, aside from lessons and performing (when I get back to performing).
Ann, that sounds impressive. I never got that much of an exam from the Kaiser-Permanente audiologist (30 min at most). I think for more complex problems than mine more testing would have been required (based on the audiologist text book I have).
Andrew, Sounds like you're good to go. I always enjoy your intelligent and knowledgeable posts. You are like me, you like to study things to get the most out of them. I was lucky in that my insurance paid the full ticket. The insurance company said they wouldn't but they did. I wish I had known or I'd have gotten the 90 level instruments. But what I have is good enough for the likes of me. Come June I'll be on Medicare and my new plan won't pay for them unless I use their vendor, which I won't.
Ann, that is very interesting - I will ponder some of those things because my speech discrimination is not that good - for sure and I do depend somewhat on seeing lips move. And I have some troubles with aids that enhance 4KHz in a noticeable way.
How did your aids work in noise (that's what a bunch of voices are called)? I haven't really tested mine since I got the app. The important thing is that you are wearing hearing aids and that will slow down the progression of the deafness if it is due to nerve deafness.
Wishing you all well with your solutions.
After a life-time of violin, plus being down-wind from trumpets and piccolos, and doing snare drum in a drum corp line, and doing black powder rifle and artillery in a civil war re-enactor club, I lost the top octave and half of the next octave. My convincing clue was when I did not understand the jokes at a play, but the people next to me did. And I got into trouble at work for miss-understanding things. I have very expensive hearing aids from an audiologist. The tinnitus has been reduced.
joel, I had a friend who made explosives when he was a child, blowing up stumps and beaver dams for the neighboring farmers. He had a notch in his hearing response. The audiologist asked him if he had been in the artillery.
Paree : have you tried an orchestral mute (sometimes called a concert mute) on the bridge ? This will reduce the volume without totally killing the sound like a practice mute would do. I play with one all the time now that I am working through the day and only have time to practise at night.
Brian, I have wondered about those, that's nice to know.
Thank you all for your kind wishes, thoughtful suggestions and for sharing your experiences.
The practice mutes kill the whole sound ; it no longer sounds, acts or feels like a violin when one of those is fitted. Please try the concert/orchestral mute.
Which concert/orchestral mute would you recommend?
I have found that leather mutes give me the most tone control. That is, with a leather mute I can place it in certain ways to change the frequency balance (due to overtones) that gets to my ear. This is not the kind of mute I use when playing in an orchestra. For orchestra and all other ensemble playing I use a mute that slides on and off fastest and otherwise resides on the middle string afterlengths - but not a "wire mute."
Practice mutes have a role - for practicing. And if it's a question of harm from loud sound such as hearing loss vs using a practice mute, it's no contest IMO. Even professionals who might be able to afford elaborate isolation rooms use practice mutes at times.
@Andrew, I hadn't heard about leather mute. Thank you. From the videos I saw about mutes comparison, this one sounded nice.
I used ear plugs when playing violin starting about 35 years ago (before I "graduated" to hearing aids after about 15 or 20 years of that).
Violas are much less dangerous, unless you are at the last stand immediately in front of the trumpets. Once when I was in that spot, the conductor asked if the trumpets needed those plastic sound shields. The lead trumpet said "No, the Violas aren't bothering us."
"Also tried it with the viola section at the same time, where it seemed to make no difference."
@Andrew, how do you figure out how much attenuation you need in your left ear? I play the violin with almost center position but I suppose the vibrations from the violin body directly reaching the jaw also contribute to the loudness exposure. I have been using these new earplugs in both ears as I find tinnitus coming from the right and also both my eardrums seem to twitch sharply with certain sounds these last few days.
I ignored bone conduction and just assumed the attenuation of distance to each ear would be about 12-18 db more to my right ear. I fitted the left hearing aid loosely to approximate that. I position ("aim") my violin (and viola) very far to the left because I use left-mounted chinrests and have long arms.
You can't stop bone conduction of loud sounds. Guys in the military (artillery mainly) have hearing loss even when using proper hearing protection. Explosive pressure shock waves can kill (!). When I played amplified violin in a very loud band, I used an ear plug in the left ear, I could hear myself through the bones in my head, and hear the sound of the rest of the band bouncing off the rear wall, in my right ear.
I realize that - but the ears don't. I know what DBs are!
@Andrew, I have been using both earplugs because both of them hurt and I have increased tinnitus now. All this began acutely 2 weeks ago. I can't help thinking there could be an infectious/inflammatory component somewhere. A PA at primary care took a cursory look into my ear canals and found them "clean" and no signs of infection/inflammation. But I did get an ENT & audiology referral on request. It's a long wait until then. I don't know if this qualifies as an ER visit. It has been hard for me to judge the extent of attenuation I need in each of my ears with the ongoing issues.
Here is a site dealing with many of the very varied specific needs of musicians:
Paree, Pain in the ears such as you describe is definitely an emergency. The primary care doc was remiss in just looking at the outer ear. I am sorry that you have to wait to get care for something so serious.
Thank you all for being so kind. I had a virtual urgent care consult with a physician assistant yesterday and today, I walked into an urgent care center and had a family medicine physician take a look at my situation. This doesn't constitute an emergency, I was told. It isn't life threatening but I suppose it depends on which side you are on. The prospect of losing certain frequency range permanently and having to live with tinnitus and hyperacusis is frightening especially if it can be prevented and treated in a timely manner. Today, I was given nasal steroids and oral antihistamine to help relieve any congestion and perhaps improve my symptoms until the end of the month appointment with ENT. Antibiotics weren't thought necessary even though my right eardrum looked a bit dull (it's normally translucent). Middle ear infections in adults whose symptoms last this long and are this bad need to be treated with antibiotics but I can't self-prescribe. It would have been helpful to have someone who knows the different stages of infection/inflammation presentation look at my ears. And a bedside hearing test with a tuning fork would have helped too. Is this really the norm here when it comes to seeking medical care? Do you have to wait for weeks and months to get to see someone who knows about your condition?
Paree, I don't know where you are but it isn't normal where I am.
I'm in Madison, WI.
I see. It's more difficult if you don't have a regular doc that you see all the time like I do. I'm like an old car, things are always breaking.
My own experience of ear problems stopped a thirty year career as a professional orchestral musician. I have Meniere’s Disease which came with lose of low frequency (not such a problem for a violinist), loss of balance (tolerable), tinnitus (an annoying high Bb), and severe distortion of loud sounds (the game changer).
@Ann, I admire your tenacity.
In the meantime, wear an earplug for sure on the left and if you can stand it on the right, too. Hyperacusis is treatable (through less noise exposure) but you need to limit one or all three of these if possible - how loud something is, how close something is, and how long you are exposed to it. I always play with an earplug in the left. Both tinitus and hyperacusis are a reaction to sound exposure. BTW, there is new tinnitus treatment on the horizon, for the first time ever: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/new-tinnitus-treatment-alleviates-annoying-ringing-in-the-ears1/