Popularity, wealth, and screaming fans — these are a couple of the words and phrases you’d choose in order to describe the lifestyle of a professional musician. In spite of this, what you likely wouldn’t take into account is “hearing loss” or “tinnitus,” the not-so-enjoyable side-effects of all that celebrity, fortune, and screaming. The sad paradox is, a musician’s hearing is what is most vulnerable to harm from the performance of their trade.
As a matter of fact, musicians are around four times more likely to acquire noise-induced hearing loss compared with the average individual, as indicated by researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology. The scientific study also determined that professional musicians are roughly 57% more likely to suffer from tinnitus — a condition connected with a recurring ringing in the ears.
The cause: repeated exposure to loud sound. As time passes, very loud noise will irreparably cause harm to the hair cells of the inner ear, which are the sensory receptors responsible for transmitting sound to the brain. Like an ample area of grass worn out from repeated trampling, the hair cells can in a similar fashion be wiped out from repeated overexposure to loud noise – the big difference, of course, being that you can’t plant brand new hair cells.
Louder is not better
To demonstrate the problem, hearing loss starts with routine exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels (decibels being a unit used to calculate loudness). That may well not mean much to you, until you take into account the decibel levels connected with common actions:
- Whisper at 6 feet: 30 decibels (dB)
- Common dialogue 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 repeated unprotected exposure can cause some substantial damage, which, sadly, many popular musicians have recently attested to.
Chris Martin, the lead vocalist for the band Coldplay, has suffered with Tinnitus for many years. Martin said::
“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 express regret that they hadn’t done more to give protection to their ears through the course of 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, and fans, can protect their ears
Even though musicians are at greater risk for developing hearing loss or tinnitus, the threat can be substantially diminished by employing protective measures. As a result of the specialized requirements of musicians — and the importance of maintaining the detDue to the specialized requirements of musicians — and the significance of maintaining the details of sound — the initial step is to make an appointment with an audiologist.
Here’s a common error: musicians will often 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 comprehending speech
- Difficulty following discussions in the presence of background noise
The problem is, when these symptoms are found to exist, the harm has already been done. So, the best 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 custom musicians’ plugs or in-ear-monitors that will give protection to your hearing without limiting your musical abilities. 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, keep 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 loudspeakers right into your ears.