Tinnitus and You

The next album from post-punk group Mission of Burma is to be titled Unsound—fittingly. When lead singer Roger Miller developed tinnitus, a persistent ringing in the ears that affects about 20 percent of Americans, in 1983, the band broke up for two decades.

Miller is just one of a number of musicians and DJs whose careers were cut short by tinnitus. Although the condition is an occupational hazard for people who build their careers around loud noise, it can strike anyone. Here are some tips to avoid tinnitus:

  • Avoid loud noises. This seems obvious, but what’s less obvious is how much of your life you spend with loud noises. The highest volume on your music player is fine from time to time, but is unsafe over long periods. If you have to crank the volume over the noise of the subway, it’s too loud—and so is the subway.
  • Check your medications. Antibiotics and antidepressants, especially, can have tinnitus as a side effect. Ask your doctor if this is a risk.
  • Use protection. If you’re around loud noises—music, construction, any other job or hobby that puts you in noisy environments on a regular basis—a good set of earplugs can work wonders.
  • Lifestyle changes. Your hearing is, in part, a reflection of your overall health. Quitting smoking, reducing sodium and caffeine intake, and shunning MSG can all help keep tinnitus at bay.

Some possible treatments for tinnitus are being investigated. One, called neuromodulation, treats the condition in the brain, fixing the abnormal neuron firing believed to be at the root of the condition.

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