Jeff Beck, Neil Young, Pete Townshend and Barbra Streisand – what trait do these diverse musicians all share? All of these musicians experienced – as a result of playing the music they love – permanent hearing loss.
When musicians come to me for treatment, I feel obliged to inform them of a lamentable fact of life – playing music may damage their hearing. Noise-induced hearing loss or NIHL is caused by exposure to loud music and produces a ringing in the ears known as tinnitus; continued exposure to loud music can cause permanent hearing loss.
The hearing loss can happen to any musician, whether they play in a rock band, in a symphony orchestra, in a chamber music group, or just play at home when rehearsing. You can experience hearing loss when exposed for a prolonged period of time to any sound over 85 decibels (dB). If you play an electric guitar onstage, that instrument produces 120dB, but if you play an unamplified violin, it can produce 103dB, and thus cause just as much potential hearing loss. It has been estimated that musicians do more damage to their ears during the hours that they rehearse alone than they do in the short times they spend on stage.
By investing in a pair of earplugs – high-quality musicians earplugs, not the cheap foam earplugs you find in pharmacies – you can take steps to protect your hearing. Such earplugs were invented over 20 years ago by a company called Etymotic Research, and their design is still used by most of the manufacturers of specialized earplugs for musicians. What makes them better than the cheap foam earplugs is that they allow you to hear music and speech accurately, at all frequencies, just at lowered volumes.
Universal-fit musicians earplugs, starting at about $15 a pair, can be found at most stores that sell musical instruments. Whether you are a professional musician or just someone who plays for fun, I recommend a better form of protection – custom-molded musicians earplugs with the Etymotic filter in place. These will be more comfortable to wear for long periods of time, more effective at blocking undesirable levels of noise while allowing you to hear the music properly, and easier to clean and care for. When it comes to protecting your hearing from permanent damage it is well worth the added expense so you can enjoy performing your music for years to come.