Sometimes I feel like I walk around with my fingers in my ears all the time. If it’s not the rat-tat-tat of jackhammers, the blaring sirens on a police car, or the beep-beep-beep of a truck that is backing up, it is the air brakes on the crosstown bus. Given my relatively strong high-pitched hearing, the sound of air brakes is the worst. Very painful.
Most of the time I don’t care about the stares that I get. Sometimes, although rarely, a passerby will plug his ears in solidarity. We usually exchange a smile and an eye roll as we wonder how things have gotten so loud!
One time when I was on my way to meet some hearing research scientists for lunch, there was a group of workers jackhammering right outside the restaurant where we were meeting. They chuckled as they saw me approach with my fingers sticking firmly into my ears. At least I practice what I preach, we all laughed!
But sometimes, it is awkward to visibly plug your ears — like when you are at your child’s school music concert and the sound of the trumpet is blasting in your brain. The other parents might not appreciate your physical disapproval of their children’s musical efforts. In this situation, I will often try to block the ear that is closest, perhaps with a subtle head tilt towards an upraised hand. Of course I could always turn my hearing aids down, but then I would miss the notes from my own offspring. Thank goodness he plays the cello, an instrument in the lower sound register!
Plugging your ears with your fingers can look a bit funny, but protecting your hearing is not a laughing matter. In some of the cases described above, my hearing was probably not at real risk, but my sensitivity to loud sounds, especially high-pitched sounds, makes it painful for me, nonetheless.
Severe sound sensitivity is a serious condition called hyperacusis which is when everyday sounds like water running or a fan blowing are perceived as painfully loud. It can be extremely debilitating and is often associated with Meniere’s disease. My sound sensitivity is quite tame in comparison, however, exposure to loud sounds can trigger my tinnitus — something I want to avoid at all costs.
So what can a hard-of-hearing but sensitive-to-loud-sounds person do about this?
1. Always carry earplugs, even if you don’t think you will need them. Some come with handy carrying cases, others with decorations, while the simple type from the drug store can be carried easily in a Ziplock bag. And don’t be afraid to use them.
2. Get proficient with the volume control settings on your hearing aids. The faster you can make adjustments, the quicker you will have protection and the more agile you will be at turning the volume back up when the disturbing noise ends.
3. Don’t be shy about using your fingers. In a pinch, blocking the noise with your fingers or hands is a good option. Other simple methods of protecting your hearing include moving away from the noise and lowering the volume, if you can.
4. Perfect your incognito blocking maneuver for those sticky situations where you might not want to be seen plugging your ears — assuming the noise is at a safe level, of course. Your friends and family will thank you for your subtlety.
Readers, do you plug your ears with your fingers to block uncomfortable sounds?
19 thoughts on “Do You Cover Your Ears When Things Get Loud?”
I began losing my hearing as a child and was diagnosed with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss (“nerve damage” is what the doctor called it) in grade school. But even before I was diagnosed, I was that kid that always covered their ears because sound hurt. It wasn’t until I was in my late 40s that I even knew about hyperacusis from others in the SayWhatClub－that’s when my education really began.
My ignorance was not due to a lack of inquiring… I asked every audiologist I saw from age 21 on (I had many since we were a military family and moved around a lot) why sound was so painful. In those years the gap between how the medical profession “treated” hearing loss and any real information that was usable was an abyss.
It turns out I have severe hyperacusis and it’s likely the reason hearing aids never worked for me－I couldn’t tolerate the volume needed for benefit. I learned at a young age to protect my ears by covering them and as an adult began carry earplugs. I have very little hearing left, but I still have pain associated with sound. I often can tell there is a loud sound even when I don’t actually hear it… I know the sound is there simply because I feel pain.
For me, there’s no situation where I would not cover my ears to alleviate pain.
Hyperacusis is not well understood, unfortunately. Thank you for sharing your story. It helps others know they are not alone.
Once again..you hit the nail on the head! Thank you, so much, for this wisdom.
Long before I started losing my hearing, I suffered from hyperacusis. I didn’t know there was a name for it. I was not yet educated in speech pathology or audiology.
The process of hearing loss is a slow, gradual, insidious one…I probably started losing my hearing acuity, long before I was even in my 30’s.
Discovering that there was/is a name for this condition, made me feel less isolated and bizarre (people often look at me funny, when I reflexively plug my ears, as a reaction to loud, piercing sound).
These noxious sounds are so jarring, that my hairs stand up and I get shivers down my spine. ..it’s so unsettling and painful
People who do not have hearing loss, often ask, “How are you bothered by that noise, when, in fact, you have hearing loss?” Well…sad to say that there’s a scientific explanation that makes most people roll their eyes. But, as you probably know, the other name for this condition is “Recruitment” (whichever hair cells in cochlea, are still existing, they recruit each other, to conduct sound).
The people who are MOSt bothered by hyperacusis, are the ones who already have hearing loss, because they’ve (paradoxically) lost those same hair cells, which efficiently conduct sound, as it passes through the ear, on the way up to the brain.
So…I’m not going to bore you with more science..but, suffice to say…it’s important to protect however many hair cells remain inside your inner ear (cochlea), so that the experience of hyperacusis, is not worse than it already is.
My advice, as a professional and as person who suffers from hyperacusis is….whenever you know that you will be around loud sound…wear good ear plugs (the kind that musicians wear).
Hyperacusis is such a strange beast. Thank you for sharing this information and your good advice.
When I go to a Teenage birthday party I take along my ear plugs. Sometimes the music is so loud that I have to leave the area beause my ears hurt. I feel uncomfortable going to parties or concerts that have loud music.
It is so important to protect yourself from loud noise. I wish more schools would teach students the importance of protecting their hearing. Then perhaps more teenagers would take their hearing health seriously. Thanks for your comment.
I always cover my ears when I’m near loud noises, and taught my kids the same, esp. the teenage years when they want to drive around with loud music. I used their musician uncle as an example of what happens when you spend years around loud music. Hearing loss in no joke.
I am so glad you taught your children about it. I am trying to do the same. Thanks for your comment.
First I hear that there is a name for this condition – my audiologist just yesterday told me that a reasonably small 6db increase in sound wound not bother those with normal hearing, but can be excruciating for me.
I use a musicians ear plug (Westone is the brand) when I attend concerts, sporting events- it lowers the volume but does not compromise the sound quality. Thanks for bringing attention to this.
Hyperacusis is more common than you might expect. Thanks for sharing your protection tips.
Thanks so much for this (and the reader comments) – now I understand why I have the sensitivity to loud noises. I’ve had Meniere’s Disease for over 40 years but the sound sensitivity has worsened in the last ten years. Ironically as my hearing deteriorated. Thanks for helping me understand this! I’ll be looking for the Westone ear plugs! Thanks!!
So glad you found it helpful. Thanks for your comment.
Thanks for reading!
I still turn the volume down on my hearing aids, but it has to be really loud for me to need to do that. I have a very severe hearing loss so my perception of “loud” may differ from others perceptions.
Thanks for sharing your experiences.
Shari, I’m sure you hear about a lot of helpful technology thru your blog and travels. Do you have a favorite dB app and favorite musician’s earplug? Thanks.
I use the Decibel X app, but there are many good ones. For earplugs, I have used Earasers, but mostly I use my Bose noise-cancelling headphones which I wear over my ears. Hope that helps.
I wish I felt comfortable covering my ears. I play trombone in a band and me playing alone I can get up to 120 decibels. Once I was playing with drums behind me and tubas beside and I was ready to run out of there because of the pain
Please use earplugs then. It is critical to protect your hearing in this situation.