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Old 06-26-2014, 10:18 AM   #1
aldend123 OP
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Pressurized Eardrum and hearing protection

Does voluntarily pressurizing the eardrum (like when you're flying) create a natural method of hearing protection? For most of my life, I've been able to voluntarily pressurized my eardrum, and easily relieve it. It seems to act as hearing protection, in that it reduces sensitivity to noise. Does this just reduce my perception of noise, but the damage still occurs? Or is it reducing the movement of the drum, reducing damage?

I find I do it almost subconsciously whenever around loud noises. It improves the amount of reduction with earplugs, and helps low speed riding without plugs. Though I found highway speeds, ear plugs are the only way to go.

In case anyone wants to experiment, methods of relieving the pressure are described here : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ear_clearing

And I believe I'm using the Valsalva maneuver. And I guess a reverse version of it to create the pressure. When I first started playing around with it, I'd have to pinch my nose. But with practice, I can do it hands-free.
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Old 06-26-2014, 10:21 AM   #2
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I've wondered the same thing. I often do it on freeway rides when I've forgotten to put earplugs in, and it does at least reduce my perception of the noise, too. I'm no doctor or biologist, but as far as I understand the operation of the ear, I think this would at least provide some marginal protection. Certainly not as good as just remembering to wear ear plugs, though.
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Old 06-26-2014, 10:22 AM   #3
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How do you pressurise your eardrums?
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Old 06-26-2014, 10:26 AM   #4
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I do that all the time to clear out my ears by opening the eustachian tubes for a bit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eustachian_tube . My 5 year old had tubes and I've been teaching her how to do it. I'm still not sure she's actually doing it right, but it seems to help her ear pain when it comes around.
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Old 06-26-2014, 10:53 AM   #5
aldend123 OP
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Quote:
Originally Posted by catweasel67 View Post
How do you pressurise your eardrums?
I'm not sure how it works on a medical level, like if its positive or negative pressure.

Pinch your nose, and inhale through the nose. And boom, feels the same as flying or having a cold. Gently do the reverse to relieve the pressure. I found this can take some practice at first, as I think it requires the use of different internal muscles not normally used. But with practice, you can get very good at it.
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Old 06-26-2014, 11:21 AM   #6
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If you're inhaling, that creates a vacuum in the inner ear, not a pressure. Blow for pressure.

Anyhow, yes. You dampen the movement response of the ear drum for a given sound wave pressure. This means less motion down to the cochlea, which decreases the chance and severity of damage there.

One could argue that blowing would be more effective than inhaling, as it would also separate the middle ear bones. This is a function your body has and uses naturally. The muscles holding them together will relax when a loud sound is encountered, thereby reducing the chance of further damage to the inner ear. This is the temporary semi-deafness you can experience after say a cannon shot.

Myself, I have fun with it as my left ear has this as a permanent paralysis of these middle ear muscles, with occasional spasms. So I perceive no volume in my left ear, but it occasionally it clatters loudly when the muscles spasm.
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Old 06-26-2014, 12:29 PM   #7
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I've been able to do that for since I was a kid, and it does reduce your hearing sensitivity. I just "flex" the eustachian tubes and do a small inhale and creates a slight negative pressure. I've not tried to do it (much) with a positive pressure.

I had scarlet fever when I was a child and have tinnitus, a ringing on my ears that causes a hearing loss, so I have to be careful to "protect" my hearing in loud situations. Like around race engines, in concerts, etc. I use it as an impromptu protection method, if I know I'll be around loud sounds I carry earplugs. Never have tried it on for motorcycle riding, though.

I've been meaning to ask an audiologist (or my regular internal medicine doctor) about this long-term effects, but keep forgetting.

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Old 06-26-2014, 02:40 PM   #8
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Hearing is a weird thing. Basically, the way ears work, is that air vibrations vibrate the ear drums, this vibration is transferred through a series of bones, and then into the cochlea.

Here's a pic:



The cochlea is kinda like a snail shell, and filled with fluid. The vibrations move through that fluid and bounce off the walls of the snail shell, and set up standing waves in certain places for different frequencies. Depending on where that wave lines up, you hear a higher or lower pitch.

The cochlea is lined with tiny little hairs that sense the motion in the ocean, as it were. When a sound's too loud, the fluid moves too much, and little hairs break off in that spot. Your cochlea can't register that frequency anymore, and you become deaf to that specific pitch. Your ear never senses that frequency again, and your nerves fill it in because they don't sense an *absence* of it either- kinda like phantom limb pain. That's the ringing you get when you start to lose hearing- we call that tinitis, and I got a good bit of that in my left ear after I lost an ear plug in at the DNA Lounge and didn't bother finding a new one.

Got it? Good. moving on...

Taking it form here, it's obvious that hearing damage comes from a) the loudness (how much a given noise vibrates the fluid), and b) the length (how long it keeps moving it). Obviously, the more motion there is (louder noise) the more of those little hairs it'll break off. Also, the longer it goes on, the more it'll rattle off over time.

Gunshots? Bad (very loud). Motorcycles? Also bad (not quite as loud but still loud, and keep going for a long time).

Now we get complicated!

Ears, as mentioned earlier, have a way of protecting themselves- they can pull those little bones apart, and that helps transmit less vibration. BUT part of what causes that reaction is the overall noise the ear hears- both pitch (how loud), length (how long) and variation (how many different pitches). If you're looking at only a very narrow pitch (like, say, flutes or cheap headphones with a narrow frequency response), the ear will not perceive this as being very loud because it's such a narrow frequency. As a result, you don't take (conscious and unconscious) counter measures (like turning down the volume or your ear pulling them bones apart), and you can get hearing damage without really noticing it. Ear buds? Bad. Get the broadest frequency response with the biggest drivers you can, and you'll hear it better at lower volume and won't damage your ears as much.

OK, motorcycles! Here, you're looking at a huge variation in pitches, everything from low-range buffeting, to mid-range engine noises, to high-pitched whistling. It may not sound all that loud, but it's got a huge variation, so it's affecting large portions of your ear, and it's often long-term (like hours), so that's another cause for concern.

Finally, if you're running an open-face helmet, you're also looking at extremely low-range fluctuations that'll rattle those little bones around and shake up the fluid in the cochlea. You won't hear it, because it's too low, but it'll still cause issues as it passes through the fluid.

SO: Will pressurizing the ear drum help? Well, a little bit. It'll help take the peak off, so to speak, but it won't help cut out the high-pitched whistling the way the cheap foamy earplugs do so well, nor will it actually stop the vibrations from getting to your ear drum in the first place. All you're doing is you're dampening vibrations between your ear drum and your cochlea. Part of that may also be (and I don't know this, but I'm guessing) an ear drum that's simply more tightly stretched, and moving less. A good, loud noise will still get through, especially the high-pitched ones.

Hear (har har) endeth the sermon. I hope it's useful. And don't ask me how I know this stuff, I just sorta picked it up. I think it's mostly true.
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Old 06-26-2014, 04:51 PM   #9
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Makes sense...

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Old 06-26-2014, 06:01 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Harris View Post
I had scarlet fever when I was a child and have tinnitus, a ringing on my ears that causes a hearing loss,
Hearing loss results in tinnitus, not the other way around.

I've had some in my left ear ever since I can remember. Hardly noticeable when "doing stuff", but since I spend a lot of time in my home office, I notice it a lot.
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Old 06-26-2014, 08:07 PM   #11
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Could be either way, really: my ears ring so I can't hear, I can't hear because my ears ring. Semantics. Meh.

:)

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Old 06-27-2014, 08:21 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by Bill Harris View Post
Could be either way, really: my ears ring so I can't hear, I can't hear because my ears ring. Semantics. Meh.
Yeah, Semantics.

"Tinnitus, which is hearing a ringing noise that doesn't exist, is a common indicator of hearing loss"

"Hearing loss is a common indicator of Tinnitus, which is hearing a ringing noise that doesn't exist".
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Old 06-27-2014, 10:39 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dwoodward View Post
Yeah, Semantics.

"Tinnitus, which is hearing a ringing noise that doesn't exist, is a common indicator of hearing loss"

"Hearing loss is a common indicator of Tinnitus, which is hearing a ringing noise that doesn't exist".
What did he say?
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Old 06-27-2014, 12:08 PM   #14
aldend123 OP
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Thanks for the info guys. I had tried googling for info on this before and come up empty. Hearing damage and protection has become my recent focal point as I've been riding more and more regularly.

The point about positive pressure instead of negative is interesting, but I find it more difficult to maintain, and requires a hand over the nose to induce. Doesn't sound like it makes as much of a difference. It also feels less even, like one ear can hold more positive pressure than the other.
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Old 06-27-2014, 05:37 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by aldend123 View Post

The point about positive pressure instead of negative is interesting, but I find it more difficult to maintain, and requires a hand over the nose to induce. Doesn't sound like it makes as much of a difference. It also feels less even, like one ear can hold more positive pressure than the other.
Think I agree, and withdraw my comment above. Got to spend some time today trying both, out of necessity. I could induce a stronger dampening via vacuum than pressure, and have it hold longer via vacuum than pressure.
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