Ever think about what causes hearing loss in musicians? Obviously, it’s the loud music, but at the heart of the issues is the repeated nature of the noise, which can and will destroy the hair cells of the inner ear. These are the sensory receptors responsible for sending sound to the brain. Like an ample patch of grass worn out from frequent trampling, the hair cells can in a similar fashion be wiped out from repeated overexposure to loud noise – the dissimilarity, of course, being that you can’t grow brand new hair cells.
A musician’s hearing can be damaged from the continuous performance of their craft. Fame, wealth, and screaming fans — these are a couple of the terms and phrases you’d pick in order to summarize the everyday life of a professional musician. however, what you probably wouldn’t take into consideration is “hearing loss” or “tinnitus,” the not-so-pleasant side-effects of all that glory, wealth, and screaming.
How musicians, and fans, can protect their ears
The lead vocalist for the band Coldplay, Chris Martin, the lead has dealt with Tinnitus for a decade. Martin has been quoted as saying:
“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 indicate regret that they hadn’t done more to take care of their ears all through their careers.
Hearing loss starts with recurrent exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels (decibels being a unit used to measure loudness). That may well not mean a great deal to you, until you reflect on the decibel levels correlated with common activities:
- Whisper at 6 feet: 30 decibels (dB)
- Regular dialogue at 3 feet: 60 – 65 (dB)
- Motorcycle: 100 dB
- Front row at a rock show: 120 to 150 dB
Rock shows are literally ear-splittingly loud, and continued unprotected exposure can cause some considerable harm, which several popular musicians know all too well.
Lars Ulrich from Metallica points out:
“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.”
In reality, musicians are close to four times more likely to acquire noise-induced hearing loss in contrast with the average person, according to scientists at the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology. The scientific study also discovered that professional musicians are about 57% more likely to suffer from tinnitus — a disorder connected with a repeated ringing in the ears.
Unfortunately, most musicians don’t see an audiologist until it’s too late and they experience:
- A ringing or buzzing sound in the ears
- Any pain or discomfort in the ears
- Difficulty comprehending speech
- Trouble following discussions in the presence of background noise
The trouble is, when these symptoms are present, the damage has already been done. So, the leading thing a musician can do to deter long-term, permanent hearing loss is to schedule an appointment with an audiologist before symptoms are present.
If you’re a musician, let your audiologist recommend custom made musicians’ plugs or in-ear-monitors that will give protection to your hearing without limiting your performance in any way.