Creating and making music is a beautiful artform revered by many musicians. In fact, the majority of people enjoy listening to music on a daily basis for relaxation and entertainment. What many do not know is how loud music can damage our ears over time.
Creating and making music is a beautiful artform revered by many musicians. In fact, the majority of people enjoy listening to music on a daily basis for relaxation and entertainment. What many do not know is how loud music can damage our ears over time. The aim of this blog is to help create awareness of music-induced hearing loss among musicians, whether you’re a professional, amateur or simply an avid music lover listening to music through ear buds or headphones.
According to a 2014 published research article in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, T. Schink, et al found that professional musicians are four times as likely to develop noise induced hearing loss compared to the general public. Furthermore, they are 57% more likely to develop tinnitus, bothersome ringing or hissing sounds, as a result of their occupation. Noise induced hearing loss is not only caused by sudden very loud sounds but can also result over time with repeated exposure to loud noise, without the use of hearing protection devices or poorly fitted hearing protection devices.
It is important for everyone to understand that there are critical volume levels of sound, measured in decibels (dB) that can cause harm to the sensory hair cells in your inner ears (cochlea). In addition to the volume level, the length (duration) of sound exposure is also critically important in understanding the risk of permanent hearing loss. Defining the risk is complex and there are differences across three main organizations in clarifying the dB level and the length of exposure to the sound intensity. The three organizations that have outlined dB levels for safe sound exposure are listed below (along with weblinks to their protocols).
All three of the above organizations acknowledge that prolonged exposure to loud sounds, including music, is harmful to your hearing. Even with the use of in-ear-monitors (IEMs), care must be taken with the volume level settings through IEMs to help prevent permanent hearing loss. Below is a chart that outlines the dB intensity level with the corresponding sound exposure time limit.
What is music-induced hearing loss (MIHL) or noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL)?
Music-induced hearing loss is hearing loss that results from exposure to high levels of music (or other sounds) over prolonged periods of time. Symptoms may include difficulty with hearing the higher frequencies of sound, distortion of sound (lack of clarity or sounds may blur together), tinnitus (perception of sound in the absence of an external sound), hyperacusis (decreased sound tolerance, or increased physical discomfort from loud sounds), diplacusis (distortion of pitch), and difficulty understanding speech in a crowded environment.
But it’s not just professional musicians who are at risk for noise induced hearing trauma. Hearing damage can affect anyone who works in the music industry (front of the house staff and backstage crew), theater crew (i.e., Broadway, live theater houses), as well as bartenders, wait staff, and other staff at bars, nightclubs, sporting events, casinos and restaurants where loud music is played in the background. With the increased use of personal listening devices, the WHO reported that “1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of NIHL due to unsafe volume levels on personal audio devices and smartphones.” The catch-22 is that none of us can actually “feel” the damage that is occurring during the sound exposure. For example, if one goes to a loud music concert without use of hearing protection, they may perceive that their hearing Is muffled and/or experience temporary tinnitus for a day or two afterwards. After a couple of days, their muffled hearing and tinnitus symptoms may subside, and all is back to normal. What one does not realize is that some hearing damage has actually occurred, which is sometimes not always visible on a hearing test. Over time, loud sound will cause irreversible damage to the sensory hair cells of the inner ear that send the sound information to the brain to interpret. We now have evidence of how loud sound can disrupt how the cells transmit the information from the inner ear to the auditory nerve via synapses using neurotransmitters. This disruption which is not visible on an audiogram is known as “hidden hearing loss”. The most common symptom of hidden hearing loss is difficulty understanding speech while in groups, crowds, or at a restaurant.
What can you do to protect your hearing?
Custom hearing protection devices are the best way for individuals to protect their hearing when at loud noise venues. While some may opt to grab universal foam earplugs found at the local drugstore, these may not offer optimal hearing protection if not inserted properly in the ear canal. At Silicon Valley Hearing, Inc., we recommend custom fitted musician’s earplugs to be used at any music venue, nightclub, bar, or sporting event. Musician’s earplugs are made of hypoallergenic silicone with filters that are available with 9-, 15-, or 25-dB attenuation levels. Prior to ordering the musician’s ear plugs, impressions of your ear canals must be taken. Check out our website for options of various hearing protection products available from our office. If you are interested in learning more about hearing protection, please give our office a call at 408-540-7128.
Furthermore, if you have not already had a recent (or baseline) audiogram, otherwise known as a hearing test, we highly encourage you to contact our office schedule one. A full audiogram will help you learn more about your hearing levels and gives us an opportunity to educate you on protecting your hearing for years to come.
Marni Novick, AuD, is founder of Silicon Valley Hearing, Inc., which opened its doors in 2014, with the promise of delivering honest and affordable hearing health care, along with exceptional customer service to her valued patients.