You know what stinks?

Scientists say that your smell receptors can replace and regenerate damaged neurons. Yet hearing receptors can never regenerate or repair themselves.

When was the last time you smelled something that was as all-encompassing and enthralling as the sound of a orchestra’s crescendo when sitting in the middle of the hall? Can even the richest smell temporarily remove you from full consciousness, or make you cry?

It’s an injustice, I tell you. Which is why my conductor/composer father has always warned me about the dangers of listening to music too loudly.

I often saw him cover his ears if we encountered too loud of a moment when taking in live music. He’d bring ear plugs sometimes, and I remember at least one occasion where we had to make our own using T.P. form the bathroom. Preserving our hearing was paramount to him.

And I’m so glad I had that example to follow. I never thought my life would lead me to a career focused on music from all sides. But now that I’m here, I’m more careful than ever to take steps to preserve my hearing. If you see me out at a show, there’s a good chance you’ll also see two orange plugs sticking out of my head.

Also, I try to never use the type of headphones that may be the most common nowadays: earbuds!

To be clear, some earbuds are OK. The ones Apple supplies with every iPhone are fine, because they’re ported on the back and don’t build up a lot of pressure on the eardrums. They also don’t have a rubber or foam tip that would seal them into your ear canals.

My concern focuses on the really prevalent style of ‘buds, which are called inner-ear monitors, or IEMs, and have that recognizable rubber tip.

When an earbud is stuck in the ear, it creates a seal, and the movement of the driver produces nearly identical movement of your ear drum — this is way more movement and pneumatic pressure than your drum is used to. Your ears then activate what’s called the stapedial reflex, which is an emergency response that lowers the volume in your head by pulling the three little hearing bones in your ear away from one another.

Incidentally, the reflex also activates whenever you speak, and that keeps the sound of your own speaking from overwhelming your consciousness.

Anyway, the problem lies in the fact that when it’s always on, this reflex is annoying and fatiguing. Plus the involuntary inner-ear volume drop usually causes you to turn the volume up on your device, further exacerbating the issue.

But don’t worry, there’s always hope! Headphone companies are waking up to this problem, and some are now designing IEMs with pressure-relieving devices that restore the normal function of your eardrum and hearing during a listening session. Check out for a cool video explaining one approach to this big problem.

Smelling may be forever, but you can make your hearing last with a little knowledge and prevention.

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