How to Prevent Hearing Loss for Musicians

Musicians, from classical orchestras to rock groups, are exposed to high decibel ranges. Hearing is important to the livelihood of a musician. Musical performance may create sounds loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss. Some hearing loss in musicians may be considered occupational hearing loss, and it may interfere with the musician’s ability to perform the daily tasks of his or her profession (Sataloff, 1991).

Musicians suffer not just from hearing loss but also a ringing in their ears (tinnitus) and various pitch-perception problems. Music lovers should be modest in the length of time and level of loud music to which they expose their ears. Many performing musicians use ear monitors to regulate the levels of sound they absorb on the stage while performing.

Music-Induced Hearing Loss

There are two significant factors related to music induced hearing loss: the loudness of the music and how long you were exposed. The occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that workers should not be exposed to 90 decibel (dB) sound levels for any longer than eight hours a day. Musicians are often exposed to 100 dB for long periods of time, and some people listen to an iPod as this level for numerous hours. With time, the cochlear hair cells (deep inside the inner ear) become frayed, flattened, and damaged from this loud noise. These hair cells are responsible for amplification and transmission of impulses to the hearing nerve. Additionally, exposure to loud noises can lead to tinnitus, which is a buzzing sound or high-pitched ringing. This is a warning indication that you have been exposed to damaging levels of sound, and it is called a temporary threshold shift. While tinnitus usually resolves after a few days from one-time over-exposure to loud sound, some musicians can have permanent hearing loss and tinnitus if action is not taken. For this reason, audiology experts recommend that musicians, and other people exposed to high decibel sound levels, use some form of hearing protection.

In-Ear Monitors Protect against Hearing Loss

In-ear monitors are devices used by musicians to listen to music or to hear a custom mix of vocals and stage instrumentation for live performance or recording studio mixing. They are often custom fitted for an individual’s ears and provide a high level of noise reduction from ambient surroundings. Depending on the quality of the fit and length of the ear canal, a custom fit in-ear monitor will generally provide somewhere between 25 and 35 dB of noise reduction.

Musicians who do not need amplified playback in their ears may benefit from custom-fitted musicians’ earplugs. These are non-electrical earplugs fitted with custom filters to make specific sounds in the music spectrum softer, while not compromising the overall musical experience. Ordinary ear plugs cut off high-frequency sounds, making voices muffled and the timbre of music dull. The natural sound from musicians’ ear plugs solves this problem by reducing the volume you hear without distorting the sounds.

Both in-ear monitors and musicians’ ear plugs can be custom made and fitted by a licensed hearing-care professional to each musician’s personal needs.

Sataloff, R.T. (1991). Hearing loss in musicians. American Journal of Otology, 12(2), 122-127.