Whether you jam out with your buddies in the garage or you've skyrocketed your low-key gigs into a full-on career, being a musician can lead to serious consequences for your ears. In fact, according to a large-scale study published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, professional musicians are four times more likely to suffer noise-induced hearing loss than the average person. They are also 57 percent more likely to suffer tinnitus.
Noise-induced hearing loss can happen two ways: 1) by being subjected to loud noise for long periods of time or 2) a sudden exposure to an intense sound. Unfortunately, for musicians, both of these situations are common. Between band practice and late-night shows, individuals in this profession are constantly surrounded by blaring speakers. On the other hand, a sudden bash of the cymbals or having the music turned up louder than expected can also be a culprit of hearing loss - which makes one wonder if symphony or orchestra members have similar issues, especially if they sit near the percussionists.
How loud is the music
The National Institute of Deafness and Other Communicative Disorders explains that prolonged exposure to sounds of 85 decibels or higher is likely to cause hearing loss. A small orchestra can easily perform above this decibel level. Additionally, according to the non-profit Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers, amplified rock music is 120 decibels at four to six feet away. That puts professional musicians right in the middle of extremely high-level sounds. Rockers like Pete Townshend and Brian Wilson have paid the price for their craft and now are trying to get the word out about hearing protection.
Can you be a musician and still hear after age… 35?
As a professional musician, whether lighting up electric youth playing on stage with blaring speakers or creating beautiful tunes in the orchestra pit is an important part of your life, and most people with such a gift will want to indulge in this passion for a long time. However, you need to take the proper precautions to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.
Wear earplugs: It's important to be able to listen to the rest of your music group to stay synchronized, and earplugs strike the perfect balance. They won't block the sound out completely, especially if you're playing at above-safe levels, but they'll soften the noise level enough to reduce your risk for hearing loss. In fact, you can even use earplugs designed specifically for musicians that block out all frequencies of sound rather than just low and mid-range ones. Wear earplugs both when practicing and performing.
Sound protection shields: Though most sound protections shields are developed for individual use, they can be helpful for members of a larger musical group. The barriers can fit between seats in an orchestra pit and reduce the sound around each individual musician. Wider shields, on the other hand, can block off whole sections.
Noise-monitoring equipment: These types of devices don't prevent hearing loss, but they help musicians remain aware of how loud their instruments are. While you may want to play full-force during a performance, you can lower the noise level during practice. A sound level meter or audio dosimeter can help you determine how loud is too loud.
Musicians who think they may be experiencing noise-induced hearing loss should speak with an audiologist or hearing health professional. Hearing aids are made with high-level technology, and a hearing health practitioner can show you how to adjust these devices for use while playing music, allowing you to continue with your melodious passion and still stay on top of your hearing loss.
If you are concerned about hearing loss, for yourself or someone important to you, the audiologists and hearing health care professionals at AccuQuest can help. Contact your local AccuQuest Hearing Center to schedule a hearing test and consultation.
If you want to learn more about how your hearing works, hearing loss and hearing aids, how hearing aids work or why it is a good idea to see an audiologist or hearing health care professional, click here to view and download your own copy of AccuQuest's Journey to Better Hearing.