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.