According to this website,

Tinnitus (or ear ringing) is proven by scientists to be the result of an alerting loss of hearing ability. The reasons behind this might be varying from the normal process of growing old to an incident or a proximity to a loud noise. What happens in this case is that the brain tries to compensate for the lost sound frequencies and to create new noise. This is what our ears hear.

Basically, every time you’re experiencing ear ringing, that means your limbic system (the brain section that deals with emotions and behavior) could not stop your auditory system from registering a sound it shouldn’t have been catching.

Is it true that ringing ears after a concert is a sign of permanent hearing loss, of a particular sound frequency?

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    It seems like you forgot to link your source. – Baarn Jan 20 '13 at 20:56
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    Yep thanks. Posted this up very late last night after a concert. – Kenshin Jan 20 '13 at 23:20
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    I found an expert who gave a clear answer, but with unclear references: "There are two ways hearing can be damaged by loud noises," Auer says. "Noise can stress the stereocilia bundle so much that the tip links break. However they usually grow back in 24 hours — this is the rock-concert effect, where hearing loss is temporary. But loud noises can also shear off whole bundles of stereocilia. In mammals these can't regenerate, and the loss is permanent." – Oddthinking Jan 21 '13 at 1:32
  • might be intersting noiseandhealth.org/… – bummi Jan 21 '13 at 13:23
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    There is no claim of permanent hearing loss. Thus the different forms which is why the loss after a concert is called temporary tinnitus. – Chad Jan 21 '13 at 16:30

Ringing after a concert is not a sign of permanent hearing loss, hence the recovery. However repeated exposure to the very high noise levels greatly increases your chances of causing permanent tinnitus and generally dulling your hearing. From the NHS guide to protecting hearing I have:

Experts agree that continued exposure to noise at or above 85dB over time can cause hearing loss.

A loud concert is typically rated at around 120dB, so certainly sufficient to cause damage over time. In general, overloading any sense organ tends to result in desensitisation and hearing is no different.

Without wanting to be all preachy in what should be a primarily factual answer, having found myself subject to permanent tinnitus as a result of playing music ( exactly the same as the ringing in the ears you get from a loud concert, only it is now constant in my right ear ) I would advocate strongly that anyone who is regularly going to concerts, gigs or clubs or performing amplified music should get hold of some good quality earplugs. Even the most expensive ones are pretty cheap compared with value of working hearing for the rest of your life.

General overview of noise-related hearing loss.

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