Did you know that professional musicians are nearly 57% more likely to experience tinnitus — a condition associated with a relentless ringing in the ears? It’s all attributed to repeated exposure to high decibel sound. Through the years, 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 patch of grass worn out from repeated trampling, the hair cells can similarly be destroyed from repeated overexposure to loud noise – the big difference, of course, being that you can’t grow new hair cells.
As a musician, you have unique needs for hearing and hearing protection. As such, audiologists or hearing specialists are the experts specifically trained to supply you with this tailor-made protection.
But don’t make the mistake that it’s only musicians at risk: concert-goers are just as vulnerable. So the next time you’re front and center at a rock show, be prepared for the 120 decibels of hair-cell-killing volume that’s blasting straight from the loudspeakers into your ears by wearing ear plugs.
Rock stars have a lot of fame and fortune, but unfortunately, they don’t often anticipate the hearing loss and tinnitus that comes with all that. For musicians and anyone who frequents concerts, an audiologist can recommend specialty musicians’ plugs or in-ear-monitors that will give protection to your hearing without diminishing your musical performance.
In reality, musicians are around four times more likely to acquire noise-induced hearing loss in contrast with the average individual, reported by researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology.
Popularity, fortune, and screaming fans all come with the life of a professional musician. But what you more than likely wouldn’t take into consideration is “hearing loss” or “tinnitus,” the not-so-enjoyable side-effects of all that glory, wealth, and screaming. The bittersweet paradox is, a musician’s hearing is exactly what is most predisposed to trauma from the performance of their trade.
How musicians, and fans, can protect their ears
While musicians are at greater risk for acquiring hearing loss or tinnitus, the risk can be considerably diminished by utilizing protective measures. Because of the specialized needs of musicians, the first step is to schedule an appointment with an audiologist.
Here’s a common mistake: musicians will frequently wait to see an audiologist until they become aware of one or more of these symptoms:
- A ringing or buzzing noise in the ears
- Any pain or discomfort in the ears
- Difficulty understanding speech
- Difficulty following conversations in the presence of background noise
The trouble is, when these symptoms are found to exist, the harm has already been done. So, the main thing a musician can do to prevent long-term, permanent hearing loss is to schedule an appointment with an audiologist before symptoms are present.
Louder is not better
You can get hearing loss with consistent exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels (decibels being a unit used to measure loudness). Check out these decibel levels associated with everyday actions:
- Whisper at 6 feet: 30 decibels (dB)
- Ordinary 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 concerts are literally ear-splittingly loud, and recurring unguarded exposure can cause some major damage, which, regretfully, numerous 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 significant 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 take care of their ears during 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.”
Truer words have never been spoken!