Professional musicians at greater risk of developing hearing loss

Celebrity, wealth, and screaming fans — these are a couple of of the terms and phrases you’d include to describe the lifestyle of a professional musician. But what you more than likely wouldn’t consider is “hearing loss” or “tinnitus,” the not-so-pleasant side-effects of all that fame, wealth, and screaming. The unfortunate irony is, a musician’s hearing is what is most predisposed to damage from the performance of their trade.

In reality, musicians are close to four times more likely to experience noise-induced hearing loss compared with the average person, according to scientists at the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology. The study also reported that professional musicians are approximately 57% more likely to develop tinnitus — a condition connected with a prolonged ringing in the ears.

The reason: frequent exposure to deafening sound. Through the years, very loud noise will irreparably destroy the hair cells of the inner ear, which are the sensory receptors responsible for transferring sound to the brain. Like an abundant area of grass worn out from repeated trampling, the hair cells can also be wiped out from frequent overexposure to loud noise – the difference, of course, being that you can’t grow brand new hair cells.

Louder is not better

To show the issue, hearing loss starts with routine exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels (decibels being a unit used to calculate loudness). That may very well not mean much to you, until you have a look at the decibel levels associated with typical events:

  • Whisper at 6 feet: 30 decibels (dB)

  • Regular conversation at 3 feet: 60 – 65 (dB)

  • Motorcycle: 100 dB

  • Front row at a rock show: 120 to 150 dB

In non-technical terms, rock shows are literally ear-splittingly loud, and repetitive unprotected exposure can cause some considerable harm, which, regrettably, numerous notable musicians have recently attested to.

Chris Martin, the lead singer for the music group Coldplay, has suffered with Tinnitus for ten years. According to Martin:

“Looking after your ears is unfortunately something you don’t think about until there’s a problem. I’ve had tinnitus for about 10 years, and since I started protecting my ears it hasn’t got any worse (touch wood). But I wish I’d thought about it earlier. Now we always use moulded filter plugs, or in-ear monitors, to try and protect our ears. You CAN use industrial headphones, but that looks strange at a party.”

Other notable musicians that suffer from hearing loss or tinnitus include Neil Young, Ozzy Osbourne, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend, Bono, Sting, Ryan Adams, and more, many of which voice regret that they hadn’t done more to protect their ears all through their careers. Lars Ulrich from Metallica stated::

“If you get a scratch on your nose, in a week that’ll be gone. When you scratch your hearing or damage your hearing, it doesn’t come back. I try to point out to younger kids … once your hearing is gone, it’s gone, and there’s no real remedy.”

How musicians can protect their ears with custom ear plugs

Although musicians are at greater risk for developing hearing loss or tinnitus, the threat can be greatly reduced by using protective measures. As a result of the unique needs of musicians — and the importance of preserving the detDue to the unique requirements of musicians — and the importance of preserving the fine details of sound — the first step is to make an appointment with an audiologist.

Here’s a prevalent mistake: musicians will frequently delay seeing an audiologist until they experience one or more of these symptoms:

  • A ringing or buzzing noise in the ears

  • Any pain or discomfort in the ears

  • Difficulty understanding speech

  • Difficulty following conversations in the presence of background noise

The issue is, when these symptoms are present, the harm has already been done. Therefore, the leading thing a musician can do to prevent long-term, permanent hearing loss is to schedule an appointment with an audiologist before symptoms are present.

If you’re a musician, an audiologist can prescribe specialty musicians’ plugs or in-ear-monitors that will give protection to your hearing without diminishing your musical abilities. As a musician, you have distinctive needs for hearing and hearing protection, and audiologists or hearing specialists are the professionals specifically trained to render this customized protection.

Additionally, bear in mind that it’s not only musicians at risk: concert-goers are just as vulnerable. So the next time you’re front row at a rock show, know that 120 decibels of hair-cell-killing volume is pumping right from the speakers right into your ears.


10 Things You Didn’t Know About Hearing Aids

Hearing aids have gone through a large number of iterations in their 200-plus year history. The technology that is utilized in hearing aids has historically been developed in consequence of a dedicated scientist who is either impacted by hearing loss or has a friend or family member impacted by hearing loss. For instance, Alexander Graham Bell’s mother had profound hearing loss and his wife was deaf.

Here are 10 other little-known facts about hearing aids:

1. Hearing aids can be synced up with wireless devices through advanced technology like Bluetooth, so users can enjoy direct signals from their smart phone, MP3 player, TV, and other electronic products.

2. Hearing aids are not one size fits all – as a matter of fact, they can and should be programmable. This indicates they have the ability to recall the most comfortable configurations for the user, often adapting in real time to the immediate environment.

3. Digital hearing aids – a recent advancement — have considerably minimized the occurrence of pestering feedback, echoes, and background noises. These were par for the course as part of older technologies, and they made paying attention much more challenging.

4. Hearing aids have the capacity for enhancing and clarifying sound, in addition to making it louder for the user.

5. When used in conjunction with special induction or hearing loops, hearing aid users can more clearly hear notices in public places, meetings, airports, arenas, and other congested environments. This technology enhances sounds and minimizes all the background noise.

6. Hearing aids were once only manufactured in beige and similar colors to fit in with people’s skin color, so that they were not easily recognizable. Today, users are welcoming their hearing aid technology, wearing assorted colors and patterns to showcase their devices and attract attention in a crowd.

7. In the same vein, hearing aids are smaller in size than ever before. They used to be massive, cumbersome gadgets that weighed several pounds and didn’t really do much to amplify sound. Today, they only weigh a few ounces and provide superior sound quality.

8. Today, you can invest in water resistant and waterproof hearing aids to better fit in with your lifestyle. Water resistant hearing aids can withstand low levels of humidity and moisture, while waterproof hearing aids can withstand higher levels of moisture during showering and even swimming.

9. Many hearing aids are now made with rechargeable technology; instead of having to frequently replace batteries, hearing aids can simply be recharged, thereby avoiding maintenance costs and hassle.

10. Hearing aids are not only for the hard of hearing — individuals suffering from tinnitus can often obtain relief from the constant ringing with the special tinnitus therapy components contained in many hearing aids.


Now that you learned some interesting tidbits about hearing aids and their accompanying technology, you can better understand what they have to offer the young and the old alike.


The Human Hearing Speech Banana Explained

“Speech bananas” are not afternoon treats for hearing specialists.Speech banana is a reference to the placement of sounds in an audiogram – a visual rendering of someone’s hearing ability within a range of volumes and frequencies. Audiograms are graphs of sound frequency (on the horizontal axis) and loudness (on the y axis). During a hearing test, each test sound is defined by its frequency and volume and can be plotted to create a chart.

When the typical sounds of human language – or phonemes – are plotted on this kind of audiogram, they tend to all cluster inside an region of the chart that is in the shape of a banana. Almost the entire alphabet and the majority of letter combinations (such as ng, ch, sh and th) cluster into the speech banana range. The primary exceptions are the letters w, x, y and q.

The speech banana is extremely important because it encompasses nearly all of the sounds of human language which is necessary for our ability to communicate with one another. Individuals with normal hearing, can hear lots of sounds outside the banana such as low frequency thunder or high frequency birds chirping. Individuals with hearing problems frequently have trouble hearing specific vowels and the letter combinations ch, sh, th and ng.

As a result, hearing professionals are most concerned with hearing impairment that happens within the region of the speech banana. Irrespective of whether the person is old or young, if they’re having trouble hearing sounds within that frequency and volume range, they are almost definitively having difficulty hearing speech, and thus have problems communicating effectively with other people.

The speech banana is considered so important to healthy hearing that many school districts have required audiograms for their students so that they can detect and address hearing problems early that may be affecting their ability to communicate. Since this range of sounds is so critical to communications it is the range that most hearing aids are tuned and programmed to perform best in. If you have any concerns about your hearing in the speech banana range – with or without hearing aids – feel free to call and ask us about it.

Listening and Communication Enhancement Program

“I hear and speak so much more clearly now,
and I don’t have to ask people to repeat themselves”


Whether you wear hearing instruments, are just acquiring devices, or simply wish to improve your listening skills, LACE – Listening and Communication Enhancement — training will help you get the most out of the sounds of life. Because it is a computerized, internet-based program, we can track your results and discuss them with you.

Hearing vs. Listening
Did you know that we don’t really hear with our ears? Ears do the listening, but we hear with our brain. Hearing instruments can help a person detect softer sounds, but they don’t necessarily provide good listening skills.

Even people with normal hearing can be poor listeners. Good listening skills are one of the essential components in effective communication. These abilities can be damaged both by hearing loss and by the natural aging process. LACE is designed to enhance the ability to communicate by training the brain to best utilize these skills.

Muscle Memory Training for Your Hearing
LACE is an acronym for Listening and Communication Enhancement. Conceived by leading Audiologists at the University of California at San Francisco, LACE is an interactive computerized training program that helps improve your ear-to-brain muscle memory.


LACE focuses on the five challenges of listening:

  • Speech in background noise (like restaurants or parties)
  • Rapid speech (when people are speaking quickly)
  • Competing speaker (two people are speaking and the “noise” is other people near them speaking)
  • Missing word (If you miss a word in a conversation, can you still understand the message?)
  • Auditory working memory (If you miss a piece of the conversation, how long does it take you to accurately understand what was said?)

LACE has already helped thousands of people who live with some degree of hearing loss increase their listening skills by up to 45%. Just as physical therapy can help rebuild physical strength and compensate for weakness, LACE can assist in developing listening, communication, and interaction skills.

Ask our staff about purchasing this program to improve your listening skills today!

Dr. Sweetow Discusses LACE: Patient Testimonial: NBC News Report:

We want to help you improve your listening skills
and be part of the conversation again

Call Asheville Audiology Services today
for information about LACE


Or click here for our handy webform

How You Hear

Discover how to
clear the way for better hearing

Click here to view a 3-D video tour of the ear

Hearing begins when sound waves enter the outer ear (the visible portion of the ear located on the outside of the head) and are channeled down the auditory canal, a tube-like passageway lined with tiny hairs and small glands that produce ear wax.

At the end of the auditory canal lies the middle ear which is composed of the eardrum and three small bones, known by the layman as the hammer, the anvil and the stirrup. When sound waves hit the eardrum, it vibrates and, in turn, moves the hammer. The hammer moves the anvil, which moves the stirrup, transmitting the vibrations into the inner ear. The middle ear functions to amplify sound, which is why significant hearing loss can result from any disruption in any of its parts.

The inner ear consists of the cochlea and the nerve of hearing. It converts sound waves into nerve impulses that travel to the brain via the movement of tiny hair cells. It is the brain that allows you to hear…as long as the message it is receiving is not distorted due to problems in the process just described.

Want to learn more?

Click here to learn about the types and causes of hearing loss.
Click here to learn what happens during a hearing test appointment.
Click here to learn about digital hearing instruments.

Knowledge is power…the power to hear better

Call Asheville Audiology Services do
and discover what you can do to treat and prevent hearing loss


Or click here for our handy webform

How the Balance System Works

Movement of fluid in the semicircular canals signals the brain about the direction and speed of head rotation. In other words it lets the brain know if you are nodding your head up and down or looking right to left. Each semicircular canal has a bulbous end that contains hair cells. Rotation of the head causes a flow of fluid, which in turn causes displacement of the top portion of the hair cells that are embedded in the jelly-like cupula.

Two other organs that are part of the vestibular system are the utricle and saccule. These are called the otolithic organs and are responsible for detecting linear acceleration, or movement in a straight line. The hair cells of the otolithic organs are blanketed with a jelly-like layer studded with tiny calcium stones called otoconia. When the head is tilted or the body position is changed with respect to gravity, the displacement of the stones causes the hair cells to bend.

Diagram explaining how hairs in the ear work.
Illustration B

The balance system works with the visual and skeletal systems (the muscles and joints and their sensors) to maintain orientation or balance. For example, visual signals are sent to the brain about the body’s position in relation to its surroundings. These signals are processed by the brain, and compared to information from the vestibular and the skeletal systems. An example of interaction between the visual and vestibular systems is called the vestibular-ocular reflex. The nystagmus (an involuntary rhythmic eye movement) that occurs when a person is spun around and then suddenly stops is an example of a vestibular-ocular reflex.

This figure shows nerve activity associated with rotational-induced physiologic nystagmus and spontaneous nystagmus resulting from a lesion of one labyrinth.
Illustration C

This figure shows nerve activity associated with rotational-induced physiologic nystagmus and spontaneous nystagmus resulting from a lesion of one labyrinth. Thin straight arrows–direction of slow components; thick straight arrows–direction of fast components; curved arrows–direction of endolymph flow in the horizontal semicircular canals: AC–anterior canal, PC–posterior canal, HC–horizontal canal.

The more you know, the less you’ll suffer

Call Asheville Audiology Services today to schedule a
no-obligation consultation where your questions will be answered

Or click here for our handy webform

Hearing Aid Research News

Researchers are looking at ways to apply new signal processing strategies to the design of hearing aids. Signal processing is the method used to modify normal sound waves into amplified sound that is the best possible match to the remaining hearing for a hearing aid user. NIDCD-funded researchers also are studying how hearing aids can enhance speech signals to improve understanding.

In addition, researchers are investigating the use of computer-aided technology to design and manufacture better hearing aids. Researchers also are seeking ways to improve sound transmission and to reduce noise interference, feedback, and the occlusion effect. Additional studies focus on the best ways to select and fit hearing aids in children and other groups whose hearing ability is hard to test.

From the Research Lab

Another promising research focus is to use lessons learned from animal models to design better microphones for hearing aids. NIDCD-supported scientists are studying the tiny fly Ormia ochracea because its ear structure allows the fly to determine the source of a sound easily.

Scientists are using the fly’s ear structure as a model for designing miniature directional microphones for hearing aids. These microphones amplify the sound coming from a particular direction (usually the direction a person is facing), but not the sounds that arrive from other directions.

Directional microphones hold great promise for making it easier for people to hear a single conversation, even when surrounded by other noises and voices.

If you’re fed up with straining to hear every word,
Call Asheville Audiology Services today


Or click here for our handy webform

Current Research into Balance Disorders

Research on balance disorders is ongoing. Recent findings from studies supported by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) suggest that the vestibular system plays an important role in modulating blood pressure. The information from these studies has potential clinical relevance in understanding and managing orthostatic hypotension (lowered blood pressure related to a change in body posture).

Additional studies of the otolithic organs, the detectors of linear movement, are exploring how these organs differentiate between downward (gravitational) motion from linear (forward-to-aft, side-to-side) motion.

Other projects supported by NIDCD include studies of the genes essential to normal development and function in the vestibular system and inherited syndromes of the brain that affect balance and coordination.

NIDCD also supports research to develop new tests and refine current tests of balance and vestibular function. For example, scientists have developed computer-controlled systems to measure eye movement and body position by stimulating specific parts of the vestibular and nervous systems. Other tests to determine disability, as well as new physical rehabilitation strategies, are under investigation in clinical and research settings.

In addition, NIDCD, along with other Institutes at the National Institutes of Health, joined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for Neurolab, a research mission dedicated to the study of life sciences. Neurolab focused on the most complex and least understood part of the human body, the nervous system (including the balance system).

Balance in Space

Exposure to the weightlessness of space is known to temporarily disrupt balance on return to Earth and to gravity. A team of NIDCD and NASA investigators had previously studied the effects of microgravity exposure on balance control in astronauts who had returned from short-duration space flight missions, but these studies did not include an aged individual. During the October 29-November 7, 1998, Space Shuttle Discovery mission, NIDCD and NASA collaborated in another study of postflight balance control. For the first time, a previously experienced, but now elderly astronaut, Senator John Glenn, participated.

Data collected during this mission, which are still being analyzed, may help to explain the mechanisms of recovery from balance disorders experienced on Earth as well as in the space environment. Scientists also hope that this data will help to develop strategies to prevent injury from falls, a common occurrence among people with balance disorders, particularly as they grow older.

Call Asheville Audiology Services to discover how balance testing
provides the key to treating your balance disorder


Or click here for our handy webform

Balance Order FAQ

What is a balance disorder?
A balance disorder can cause you to feel unsteady, giddy, woozy, or to have a sensation of movement, spinning, or floating. The source for this disorder can be linked to the brain, the nervous system and to an organ in the inner ear called the labyrinth. An important part of our vestibular (balance) system, the labyrinth interacts with other systems in the body, such as the visual system (eyes) and skeletal system (bones and joints) system, to maintain the body’s position.

What are the parts of the ear that affect balance?
Within the labyrinth are three fluid-filled structures known as the superior, posterior and horizontal semicircular canals. Moving fluid within these canals let you know when you are in a rotary (circular) motion. The semicircular canals and the visual and skeletal systems have specific functions that determine your orientation. The vestibule is the region of the inner ear where the semicircular canals converge, close to the cochlea (the hearing organ).

The vestibular system works with the visual system to keep objects in focus when the head is moving. Joint and muscle receptors also are important in maintaining balance. The brain receives, interprets, and processes the information from these systems that control your balance.

Diagram of the ear

What are the symptoms of a balance disorder?
If your balance is impaired, you may have difficulty maintaining orientation. For example, you may experience the “room spinning” or not being able to walk without staggering. You may not even be able to arise. Additional symptoms include:

  • A sensation of dizziness or vertigo (spinning)
  • Falling or a feeling of falling
  • Lightheadedness or feeling woozy
  • Visual blurring
  • Disorientation
  • Nausea and vomiting, diarrhea
  • Faintness
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Fear, anxiety or panic.

Some reactions to these symptoms are fatigue, depression, and decreased concentration. The symptoms may appear and disappear over short time periods or may last for a longer period of time.

What causes a balance disorder?
Balance disorders can be due to problems in any of four areas:

  • Peripheral vestibular disorder, a disturbance in the labyrinth
  • Central vestibular disorder, a problem in the brain or its connecting nerves
  • Systemic disorder, a problem of the body other than the head and brain
  • Vascular disorder, or blood flow problems.

Balance disorders may be triggered by a variety of things. Infections (viral or bacterial), head injury, disorders of blood circulation affecting the inner ear or brain, certain medications, and aging may change your balance system and result in a balance problem. If you suffer from a brain disorder or an injury of the visual or skeletal systems, such as eye muscle imbalance and arthritis, you may also experience balance difficulties.

A conflict of signals to the brain about the sensation of movement can cause motion sickness, which is a type of balance disorder. A common trigger is reading in a moving vehicle. Some symptoms of motion sickness are dizziness, sweating, nausea, vomiting, and generalized discomfort

What are some types of balance disorders?
Some of the more common balance disorders are:

  • Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV): A brief, intense sensation of vertigo that occurs because of a specific positional change of the head. You may experience BPPV when rolling over to the left or right upon getting out of bed in the morning, or when looking up for an object on a high shelf. The cause of BPPV is not known, although it may be caused by an inner ear infection, head injury, or aging.
  • Labyrinthitis: An infection or inflammation of the inner ear causing dizziness and loss of balance.
  • Meniere’s Disease: An inner ear fluid balance disorder that causes episodes of vertigo, fluctuating hearing loss, tinnitus (a ringing or roaring in the ears), and the sensation of fullness in the ear. The cause of Meniere’s disease is unknown.
  • Vestibular Neuronitis: An infection of the vestibular nerve, generally viral.
  • Perilymph Fistula: A leakage of inner ear fluid to the middle ear. It can occur after head injury, physical exertion or, rarely, without a known cause.

How are balance disorders diagnosed?
Diagnosis of a balance disorder is complicated. There are several types of disorders as well as medical conditions and medications themselves that may contribute to the condition. For these reasons, if you experience dizziness, see a physician for an evaluation.

Your physician may recommend that you see a an otolaryngologist, a doctor that specializes in diseases disorders of the ear, nose, throat, head, and neck. Testing at the office may include a hearing examination, blood tests, an electronystagmogram (ENG), a test of the vestibular system, or imaging studies of the head and brain.

A caloric test may be performed as part of the ENG (electronystagmography) to check for an inner ear infection.

Another test called posturography requires you to stand on a special platform capable of movement within a controlled visual environment. Your body sway is recorded in response to movement of the platform and/or the visual environment.

How are balance disorders treated?
Individual treatment for a balance disorder will vary and will be based upon symptoms, medical history, general health, examination by a physician, and the results of medical tests.

How can I help my doctor make a diagnosis?
You can take the following steps that may be helpful to your physician in determining a diagnosis and treatment plan.

  • Bring a written list of symptoms and your current list of medications to your doctor.
  • Be specific when you describe the nature of your symptoms to your doctor. For example, describe how, when, and where you experience dizziness.
  • Write down any instructions or tips your doctor gives you.

Stop feeling off-balance about your hearing health

Call Asheville Audiology Services today and
schedule a balance test


Or click here for our handy webform