Musicians Need Hearing Protection too — New research has some surprising results
If you make your living playing music, hearing loss, specifically music induced hearing loss (MIHL), is a risk you need to understand and manage.
Playing solo, with a group, or on the stage, your life is surrounded by sound— and that sound can damage your hearing. But understanding how damage can occur will help you reduce the risks, so that your career can continue into retirement.
Music induced hearing loss begins as damage that you could easily ignore
Hearing loss doesn’t just happen. It’s often a slow, progressive process that we only become aware of when friends or family start to notice that we aren’t responding the way we used to.
Often, there are no signs or symptoms when it comes to MIHL. You might have ringing in your ears or trouble with pitch perception, but usually MIHL just shows up after many years of practicing and playing music.
More time playing music increases your risk of music induced hearing loss
The average classical musician plays 25 hours per week—a long time to be immersed in sound. It’s then no surprise that classical musicians tend to be at highest risk for MIHL.
You don’t have to be a professional musician to experience MIHL. Anyone who listens to music for prolonged periods of time at elevated volumes is at risk.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines harmful sound exposure at levels of 85 dB and above averaged over an 8 hour time period. Put into context, live music concerts and practice sessions were tested and averaged 102.5 – 106 dB (the equivalent of a passing train or helicopter!)
Studies demonstrate musicians don’t take hearing loss seriously and rarely use ear protective devices
Recently a study published in Audiology Research titled Awareness of musicians on ear protection and tinnitus, examined hearing deterioration; awareness of ear protective devices (EPDs); presence of tinnitus and measurement of temporary threshold shift in 34 musicians.
Among the participants, 8.8% reported subjective hearing loss, 38.2% reported ringing in one ear, 79.4% lacked awareness about EPDs and 21.6% were aware but never used them!
Similar results were found in a study, entitled Collegiate musicians’ noise exposure and attitudes on hearing protection. Researchers demonstrated inconsistent use of hearing protection increased the risk of hearing loss, ringing in the ears, hyperacusis (increased sensitivity to sound) and diplacusis (double hearing often hearing the same note in two different pitches).
The message is clear. Musicians are at increased risk for hearing problems, but they are also either unaware of protective devices or unwilling to take precautions.
If you are a musician, we urge you to consider the long-term impact on your hearing. Visit your audiologist to assess your hearing and learn about the many ways you can protect yourself and your career.