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Musicians Hearing Loss and Prevention

Musicians, from classical orchestras to rock groups, are exposed to high decibel volume ranges. Hearing is important to the livelihood of a musician. Musical performance may create sounds loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss. Some hearing loss in musicians may be considered occupational hearing loss, and a deficit in hearing ability will interfere with the musician's ability to perform the daily tasks of his or her profession.

Not only can musicians suffer from hearing loss, but many musicians often experience a ringing in their ears (tinnitus) and various pitch-perception problems. Music lovers should be modest in the length of time and level of loud music to which they expose their ears. Many performing musicians use in-ear monitors to regulate the levels of sound they absorb on the stage while performing. 

Music-Induced Hearing Loss

There are two significant factors related to music induced hearing loss: the loudness of the music and how long you were exposed. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that workers should not be exposed to 90 decibel (dB) sound levels for any longer than eight hours each day. Musicians are often exposed to 100 dB for long periods of time, and some people listen to an iPod at this level for numerous hours.

With time, the cochlear hair cells (deep inside the inner ear) become frayed, flattened, and damaged from this loud noise. These hair cells are responsible for amplification and transmission of impulses to the hearing nerve. Additionally, exposure to loud noises can lead to tinnitus, which is a buzzing sound or high-pitched ringing. This is a warning indication that you have been exposed to damaging levels of sound, and it is called a temporary threshold shift.

While tinnitus usually resolves after a few days from one-time over-exposure to loud sound, some musicians can have permanent hearing loss and tinnitus if action is not taken. For this reason, audiology experts recommend that musicians, and other people exposed to high decibel sound levels, use some form of hearing protection.

Problems with Floor Monitors

While on stage performing, musicians have often used floor wedges and monitors to better hear their band mates and themselves. One drawback to this is that the sound is directed at the musicians, and it can reach high levels of sound. This also leads to a volume war, where the house and monitoring engineers and musicians keep bumping up the volume of their own mix until they reach feedback. Also, timing issues can arise as musicians vary their distance from the floor monitor, and these units are bulky and require much physical space on state and on the tour bus.

In-Ear Monitors Protect against Hearing Loss

In-ear monitors are devices used by musicians to listen to music or to hear a custom mix of vocals and stage instrumentation for live performance or recording studio mixing. The monitors are often custom fitted for an individual's ears and provide a high level of noise reduction from ambient surroundings. Depending on the quality of the fit and length of the ear canal, a custom fit in-ear monitor will generally provide somewhere between 25 dB and 35 dB of noise reduction.

In-ear monitors are custom made for the musician's ear, and they are made of silicone, acrylic, or hybrid mold. To get the most sound isolation benefit, experts suggest that the musician uses a silicone or an acrylic with silicone canal portion mold. These monitors allow for improved sound quality to both the audience and the musician, simply by isolating the monitoring mix from the front area mix. Additionally, in-ear monitors are convenient when used properly.

Musicians Benefit from Earplugs

Musicians who do not need amplified playback in their ears may benefit from custom-fitted musicians’ earplugs. These are non-electrical earplugs fitted with custom filters to make specific sounds in the music spectrum softer, while not compromising the overall musical experience. Ordinary earplugs cut off high-frequency sounds, making voices muffled and the timbre of music dull. The natural sound from musicians’ earplugs solves this problem by reducing the volume without distorting the sounds.

Musicians’ earplugs are vented and filtered with small diaphragms that allow attenuation evenly across the frequency spectrum and reduce the volume while letting you hear undistorted sound signature with good response. This lets you hear all notes clearly in the absence of high intensities.

Conclusions

As you can see, advancements in hearing protection options for the musician have been made, especially for percussionists. Be sure to use hearing conservation strategies in all areas of life, not just when performing and practicing. Both in-ear monitors and musicians’ earplugs can be custom made and fitted by a licensed audiology professional to each musician’s personal needs.