Musicians & Hearing Loss

In Hearing Health, Hearing Loss by Dr. Jason Leyendecker

Dr. Jason Leyendecker
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For many, making music for a living is a dream and a full-time job. Even so, whether you play in the symphony or play in a band you may be exposing your ears to damaging levels of sound. Each year, about 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work and this includes musicians. Professional musicians are almost four times as likely to develop noise-induced hearing loss as the general public and 57% more likely to develop ringing in the ears (tinnitus).

Musicians and Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Musicians often practice for hours every day and then frequently are exposed to loud music night after night. Often the sound swells to high decibels causing damage to the tiny hairs of the inner ear causing permanent damage. It is not just the level of the sound, but also the length of exposure. This means musicians who have been playing for years are at very high risk for hearing damage.

Stress for Musicians with Hearing Issues

Everyone should have their hearing tested regularly to make sure that their hearing is as clear as it can be. Untreated hearing loss can have devastating emotional, mental and physical effects for individuals, especially as it is ignored for years. This is particularly true for musicians whose jobs may be impacted by hearing loss

A Finnish study explored the effects of tinnitus and hyperacusis (a condition classified as loss of tolerance to sound). The study found that 15% of classical musicians in the study suffered from tinnitus in comparison to 2% of the general population. Also alarming about 43% of the classical musicians suffered from hyperacusis. This in turn causes stress for musicians with hearing damage. The study found that 83 percent of musicians with hearing loss tinnitus and hyperacusis suffered from stress at work. Hearing loss was found to increase the stress at work threefold, while tinnitus increased stress by 5 times.

What You Can Do to Protect Your Hearing

If you are a working musician it is important to understand the added risk to your hearing and to do what you can do early on to protect your hearing for the future. While typical earplugs can mute speech and music by limiting high range frequencies, musician’s earplugs target all the ranges more gradually and even maintain the quality of sound.

Musician’s earplugs can lower decibel levels so they stay at a safe level while still enabling you to hear your interment and the music of those you are playing with. Ultimately these earplugs can help you hear notes better without having to strain or injure your ears. Our Doctors of Audiology can recommend custom musicians’ earplugs or in-ear-monitors to protect your hearing without compromising your musical performance or experience. 

Listening to Music With Hearing Loss

Hearing loss often makes it difficult for people to follow and keep up with conversations. For professional musicians this limits musical conversation as well, making music sound muffled, and quieter, taking the brightness and excitement out of the sound. Certain tones in singing are easily lost to the ear and the combination of the delicate combination of instruments becomes out of balance affecting a musician’s ability to play with others. For professional musicians who are dealing with noise-induced hearing loss, it can often make listening to music, let alone playing music with others, very challenging.

Hearing Aids and Music

Fortunately the latest features in hearing aids are not only designed to make it easier for you to hear people speak but there are now settings specifically for hearing and playing music. There are certain features, which are designed to hone into the specific tones, which need to be increased to hear music. 

However, a 2016 report from British hearing researcher Brian Moore, Ph.D., found that there is much work to be done for improving hearing ability to navigate music. In speech hearing aids are able to amplify loudness perception but music requires an understanding of the nuisance of frequencies of a bass instrument like a cello and the higher frequencies of a piccolo. Using the settings for speech can greatly distort the music. 

Even so, there are hearing aid options with sophisticated technology to pick up the richness of music. If you are dealing with a hearing loss affecting the way you experience music, make an appointment for a hearing screening today. Don’t let it go unaddressed and contact us today!