Q: I recently attended a concert and had a great time but thought it was too loud. Considering how loud it was where I was sitting, I wondered what the musicians would be experiencing in the midst of that noise. How many musicians are damaging their hearing?
A: The correlation between hearing difficulties and musicians is quite high. Professional musicians are almost four times as likely to develop what is called noise-induced hearing loss compared to the general population. But that’s not the only concern musicians have; tinnitus is also known to develop.
Tinnitus is simply a ringing, buzzing, or clicking noise that some complain about and may occur along with hearing loss. Professional musicians are 57% more likely to develop tinnitus as a result of their job. The hearing loss is noise-induced and can be caused by sudden, very loud noise, but it can also develop gradually as a result of continual exposure to loud noise according to a study published in the British Medical Journal.
Exposure to loud music over time will permanently damage the hair cells in the inner ear. These hair cells are responsible for sending the sound through the inner ear to the brain to be heard. Noise-induced hearing loss is permanent and the most common cause of hearing loss resulting from extended exposure to high levels of noise.
The damage caused by noise may develop into what is known as sensorineural hearing loss, but it’s important to remember that this particular type of hearing loss is preventable—and that protecting the ears and hearing is important.
The National Institutes of Health reported that about 15% of Americans have high-frequency hearing loss complicated from occupational or leisure activities, including music. The evidence suggests that loud rock music along with increased use of listening devices with earphones may also be contributors.
It’s important for musicians to consider these following pointers or suggestions when thinking about their hearing:
- Obtain a baseline hearing test and a tinnitus screening to establish whether a hearing loss is present.
- Use in-ear monitors when adjusting for sounds that aren’t heard because of a possible hearing loss.
- And, of course, musicians should wear ear protection, which does more than protect hearing. Musician earplugs have filters that allow them to hear their own voice and instrument—a feature that helps singers hit notes without straining.
So, as you can see, there truly is a concern for musicians. To enjoy playing and listening to music, please feel free to share this information and encourage all to take action today rather than tomorrow. As always, if there are any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me at Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic.
Randa Mansour-Shousher, AuD, CCC-A, is a Doctor of Audiology with Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic, located at 1125 Hospital Dr., Suite 50 in Toledo (419-383-4012) and 1601 Brigham Dr., Suite 160 in Perrysburg (419-873-4327).