Preventing Long Term Hearing Loss in Musicians
In addition to all of them being musicians, what do Barbra Streisand, Phil Collins, Ludwig van Beethoven and Brian Wilson have in common? All of these musicians experienced – as a result of playing the music they love – permanent hearing loss.
When musicians come to me for treatment, I feel obliged to inform them of a lamentable fact of life – playing music may damage their hearing. Exposure to loud music causes noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), which can produce a temporary ringing in the ears (tinnitus); if you continue to expose yourself to the loud music, the condition can become permanent.
Not just big-name stadium rock stars are susceptible, all musicians are at risk. Players of all genres from classical, to club and small venues, even while rehearsing at home a musician can cross the threshold to overexposure resulting in NIHL. Any sound with an amplitude (volume) of over 85 decibels (dB) can cause hearing loss if you are exposed to it for long periods of time. While 85dB may sound like a high level of sound, even rehearsal situations can produce these levels. Rock musicians and classical alike are both exposed to excessive amplitude of sound; an unamplified violin reaches 103dB and an electric guitar produces 120dB. In fact, audiologists researching hearing loss in musicians have found that overexposure to sound while rehearsing adds up to more hours than they spend on stage performing.
Musicians can take steps to protect their hearing despite this unavoidable exposure to sound that exceeds acceptable levels, even in seemingly quiet rehearsal settings. When investing in high-quality ear protection beyond what can be had from drug-store Styrofoam ear plugs, performers can trust their hearing is protected. Manufactures of ear protection today still use the original and proven design first invented by Etymotic Research over 20 years ago. These musicians earphones are better for your purposes because they allow you to hear the full frequency range of both music and speech, but at lower volumes that don’t damage hearing.
You can find universal-fit musicians earplugs in most stores that sell musical instruments, starting at about $15 a pair. For musicians that want to protect their hearing and hear the full range of their music, I recommend custom-molded earplugs with Etymotic filters. These will be more comfortable to wear for long periods of time, more effective at blocking undesirable levels of noise while allowing you to hear the music properly, and easier to clean and care for. When it comes to protecting your hearing from permanent damage it is well worth the added expense so you can enjoy performing your music for years to come.