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.


Understanding the Causes of Tinnitus in Kids and Choices for Treatment

Tinnitus (Ringing in the ears) is a well-known problem among older people, however tinnitus doesn’t discriminate by age. Children are equally at risk for this potentially debilitating disorder. Unlike adults, who can usually figure out that the noises they keep hearing are outside of the norm, children are more likely to assume that everyone hears these sounds. If your child shows signs of tinnitus it is important to look into it to rule out any underlying condition.

There are many different conditions that can cause a person of any age to experience tinnitus. Among the many potential causes are circulatory problems, hearing loss from damaging noise, a build-up of wax in the ear canal, a misalignment in the jaw joints, and trauma to the neck and head. Slow-growing tumors on nerves in the face and ears can also cause tinnitus. Bring your child to your family doctor to rule out any specific ear problems. If your appointment does not uncover any obvious issues, your doctor will likely advise you to investigate further with an audiologist or ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist.

Should your child’s specialist find a specific issue that is causing the tinnitus, there is a good chance that the problem can be addressed and the condition eliminated. Unfortunately, many incidences of tinnitus are not associated with a specific issue. In this case, there is no way to eradicate the problem, so your focus should shift to helping your child cope with the sounds he or she is hearing.

Tinnitus can be distracting, making it difficult for your child to pay attention at home or at school. Background noise is an effective way to fight back against this problem. Run a fan or soft music in the background while your child is at home. Hearing aids can be helpful for kids with hearing loss by helping them filter out distractions and focus on important sounds.

Some kids experience emotional distress as a result of tinnitus. In this case it is important to be supportive and reassuring about the condition. Make sure your child understands that tinnitus is a common problem that affects many other children. Work with your doctors and experts to explain the problem to your child in a way he or she can understand. Take steps to help your child deal with stressful situations, as many children find that stress can make their tinnitus symptoms much worse.

Always keep in mind that many children outgrow their tinnitus without intervention, so it may cease to be an issue. While it may be a nuisance now, with time your child can overcome it.

The Latest in Sound Therapy for Tinnitus Patients

Sound is a vital part of our world, but like most things, its impact on us depends upon both the quality of the sounds we hear, and the quantity of them. For instance, for most of us, hearing music we enjoy is calming and enjoyable, but flip the volume of that music up too loud – such as at a rock concert or when listening to headphones on maximum volume – and the exact same music becomes jarring and stress-inducing.

Everyone has a different taste in music, thus the quality of a piece of music is always subjective. On the other hand, the quantity as measured duration and decibel level is extremely objective and readily quantified. Extended exposure to music (or any other noises) over specific decibel levels injures the hair cells of the inner ear leading to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). As a result of being exposed to these loud sounds, an estimated one in five Americans have developed some degree of tinnitus (constantly hearing a ringing or buzzing sound in the ears). It is easy to understand how excessive volume can cause anxiety, but so too can really quiet sounds. For instance, the leaky drip of a faucet or ticking of a clock have been shown to cause stress, anxiety and insomnia.

On the other hand, sound can be used to lower anxiety and stress and even treat some types of hearing loss. Many individuals have experienced the soothing effects of soft music, the relaxing sound of falling water or ocean surf, or the meditative sounds of chanting or Tibetan singing bowls. These types of sounds are increasingly being used to treat anxiety rather than create it, and are similarly being used by hearing specialists to treat tinnitus rather than cause it. Music therapy is reaching the mainstream in clinics and hospitals to improve healing after surgery, in stroke rehabilitation, and to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. People have successfully used white noise generators (which create a blend of frequencies similar to the sound of ocean surf) to help people overcome insomnia and sleep disorders, and to reduce their perceived awareness of background sounds in noisy environments.

More directly related to hearing loss, sound and music therapy is being used more and more to treat tinnitus by setting up what professionals call a threshold shift, which allows tinnitus patients to psychologically disguise the constant ringing or buzzing sounds they hear. Using music therapy, audiologists have been able to help tinnitus sufferers to retrain their minds, to focus less on the constant buzzing, and to focus more on the foreground sounds they want to hear, and which are more pleasant. While the tinnitus buzzing does not disappear, the anxiety and stress that it otherwise produces are reduced. The patients learn to focus attention on desirable sounds in favor of undesirable ones.

So if you or a friend has tinnitus, call us and arrange an appointment so that we can discuss treatment options, which may include music therapy, with you.

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