Fame, fortune, and screaming fans — these are a few of the terms and phrases you’d pick in order to describe the lifestyle of a professional musician. But what you almost certainly wouldn’t take into account is “hearing loss” or “tinnitus,” the not-so-pleasant side-effects of all that fame, wealth, and screaming. The sad irony is, a musician’s hearing is exactly what is most subject to harm from the performance of their art.
In reality, musicians are around four times more likely to experience noise-induced hearing loss when compared with the average individual, as indicated by researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology. The research study also determined that professional musicians are around 57% more likely to experience tinnitus — an ailment associated with a continual ringing in the ears.
The root cause: repeated exposure to loud noise. As time passes, loud noise will irreparably cause harm to 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 frequent trampling, the hair cells can in a similar fashion be destroyed from frequent overexposure to loud noise – the big difference, of course, being that you can’t grow brand new hair cells.
Louder is not better
To illustrate the issue, hearing loss begins with routine exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels (decibels being a unit used to gauge loudness). That could very well not mean much to you, until you take into account the decibel levels connected with typical activities:
- 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 concerts are literally ear-splittingly loud, and repetitive unprotected exposure can cause some severe damage, which, regretfully, many notable musicians have recently attested to.
Chris Martin, the lead singer for the band Coldplay, has struggled with Tinnitus for many 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 celebrated 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 high fidelity musician’s plugs
While musicians are at greater risk for developing hearing loss or tinnitus, the risk can be greatly decreased by utilizing protective measures. Due to the unique requirements of musicians — and the significance of maintaining the detAs a result of the unique requirements of musicians — and the significance of protecting the details of sound — the initial step is to make an appointment with an hearing specialist.
Here’s a typical error: musicians will frequently wait to see an audiologist until they notice one or more of these signs or symptoms:
- A ringing or buzzing sound in the ears
- Any pain or discomfort in the ears
- Difficulty understanding speech
- Trouble following discussions in the presence of background noise
The issue is, when these symptoms are found to exist, the damage 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 recommend tailor made musicians’ plugs or in-ear-monitors that will give protection to your hearing without compromising your musical performance. As a musician, you have unique needs for hearing and hearing protection, and audiologists or hearing specialists are the experts specifically trained to offer you this customized protection.
Additionally, bear in mind that it’s not only musicians at risk: concert-goers are just as susceptible. So the next time you’re front row at a rock concert, understand that 120 decibels of hair-cell-killing volume is pumping right from the speakers right into your ears.