In 2014, I was covering a music weekend for a magazine article. The editor said I should get great photos - the whole commission depended on that. I thought foam ear plugs would be sufficient to protect my ears and I went down the front to get the best shots. The event was an absolute blast. I loved it. But half way through, I became aware of a horrible pressure building up behind my ear drums. I went to buy new ear plugs, but they were worse than the ones I'd bought with me, so I fitted them as tightly as I could and carried on.
In hindsight, I wish I'd just left at that point, but I hoped the feeling would pass, like the ringing in your ears passes following a concert. It didn't. So I'm writing this blog to warn people about the risks of relying on foam ear plugs at concerts, and the little known symptoms of permanent ear damage to watch out for.
When I returned home after the music weekend, I hoped the problem would pass, but it didn't so a few weeks later, I went to see the local practice nurse (there were no doctor's appointment's available). She said I had a blocked eustacian tube - fluid in the ear, putting pressure on the ear drum. A bit of web researched revealed that this is called Glue Ear. I was told to steam my ears, so I did it obsessively, every day, and it helped a bit. Six months of steaming later, my symptoms were still troubling me, so I tried to get a referral to a specialist. The doctor wouldn't refer me until I'd tried a load of drugs: antihistamines, decongestants, steroids, etc etc. All designed to eliminate glue ear, while at the same time, they now insisted that I didn't have glue ear.
To cut a long story short, it actually took three-and-a-half years to get an appointment with an ENT specialist. He said I have inner ear damage. It's not hearing loss, although sounds are muffled, but the feeling of pressure behind the ear drum drives me crazy. And there's a humming that's pretty awful too. Had I known that ear pressure was a sign of permanent damange, I'd have left the music weekend as soon the problem became apparent.
Most people know that noise can damage your hearing, but they probably reckon foam ear plugs offer sufficient protection. With hindsight, I can only suggest people exposed to loud noise invest in metal earplugs, try wax earplugs, or get professional musician's ear plugs. Better still, get industrial ear defenders. I wish I had.
What about the article covering that music weekend? Well I did get amazing photographs! But the editor who commissioned the article never published it. A cut of the original piece was sold to another publisher a few years later and was published last year. Was it worth it? Aboslutely not.
So for people searching Google for Glue Ear - like I was for years - trying different treatments, but finding nothing works, perhaps that pressure is caused by inner ear damage. I hate to say it, but there's little medics can do about that. My GP says, at some point in the future, it may be worth trying a low-dose of a drug to reduce the unpleasant sensation behind the ears.
If anyone stumbles across this blog and has any experience or advice on how to improve this situation, do leave a comment below. Thank you.
(c) Susie Kearley 2023. All Rights Reserved.