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Celebrity, wealth, and screaming fans — these are a few of the words and phrases you’d include to describe the everyday life of a professional musician. But what you more than likely wouldn’t think about is “hearing loss” or “tinnitus,” the not-so-enjoyable side-effects of all that glory, money, and screaming. The unfortunate irony is, a musician’s hearing is just what is most sensitive to damage from the performance of their art.

The reality is, musicians are around four times more likely to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss contrasted with the average individual, as reported by researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology. The scientific study also determined that professional musicians are about 57% more likely to experience tinnitus — a disorder connected with a persistent ringing in the ears.

The culprit: recurring subjection to deafening noise. In the long run, very loud noise will irreparably cause harm to the hair cells of the inner ear, which are the sensory receptors responsible for transferring sound to the brain. Like an ample patch of grass worn out from repeated trampling, the hair cells can similarly be wiped out from frequent overexposure to loud noise – the significant difference, of course, being that you can’t grow brand new hair cells.

Just how loud are rock concerts?

To show the problem, hearing loss begins with routine exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels (decibels being a unit used to measure loudness). That might not mean a great deal to you, until you look at the decibel levels correlated with common actions:

  • Whisper at 6 feet: 30 decibels (dB)

  • Regular dialogue at 3 feet: 60 – 65 (dB)

  • Motorcycle: 100 dB

  • Front row at a rock concert: 120 to 150 dB

In non-technical terms, rock concerts are literally ear-splittingly loud, and repeated unguarded exposure can cause some substantial harm, which, regretfully, several distinguished musicians have recently attested to.

Chris Martin, the lead vocalist for the band Coldplay, has suffered with Tinnitus for many years. Martin said::

“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 protect their ears during the course of their careers. According to Lars Ulrich from Metallica:

“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.”

How musicians, and fans, can protect their ears

While musicians are at a higher risk for acquiring hearing loss or tinnitus, the threat can be substantially decreased by assuming protective measures. As a result of the specialized requirements of musicians — and the importance of protecting the detBecause of the specialized requirements of musicians — and the significance of protecting the fine details of sound — the first step is to schedule an appointment with an hearing specialist.

Here’s a prevalent error: musicians will frequently delay seeing an audiologist until they experience one or more of these symptoms:

  • A ringing or buzzing sound in the ears

  • Any pain or discomfort in the ears

  • Difficulty understanding speech

  • Difficulty following discussions in the presence of background noise

The concern is, when these symptoms are present, the damage has already been done. Therefore, the best 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, an hearing specialist can prescribe custom made musicians’ plugs or in-ear-monitors that will give protection to your hearing without compromising your musical abilities. As a musician, you have distinctive needs for hearing and hearing protection, and audiologists or hearing specialists are the experts specifically trained to offer you this custom protection.

Additionally, bare in mind that it’s not only musicians at risk: concert-goers are just as susceptible. So the next time you’re front row at a rock show, know that 120 decibels of hair-cell-killing volume is pumping straight from the speakers right into your ears.


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