In addition to all of them being musicians, what do Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Pete Townshend and Jeff Beck have in common? All of these musicians experienced – as a result of playing the music they love – permanent hearing loss.
When I treat musicians, I have to tell them a sad but unavoidable fact of life – the very music they love to play may be damaging 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.
Not just big-name stadium rock stars are susceptible, all musicians are at risk. Players of all genres from classical, to club and small venues, even while rehearsing at home a musician can cross the threshold to overexposure resulting in NIHL. 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. In fact, hearing instrument specialists researching hearing loss in musicians have found that overexposure to sound while rehearsing adds up to more hours than they spend on stage performing.
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. The first musicians earphones were invented by Etymotic Research, and other manufacturers still use their design to create specialized ear protection for musicians. These musicians earphones are better for your purposes because they allow you to hear the full frequency range of both music and speech, but at lower volumes that don’t damage hearing.
You can find universal-fit musicians earplugs in most stores that sell musical instruments, starting at about $15 a pair. For musicians that want to protect their hearing and hear the full range of their music, I recommend custom-molded earplugs with Etymotic filters. The custom molded earplugs will be more comfortable, will block more undesirable sounds while allowing you to hear the full range of music, and will be easier to maintain. They are also more expensive than the universal-fit earplugs, but when you consider that hearing damage is irreversible, the investment is more than worth it.