Go to any factory floor, machinist shop, food processing plant, or airport tarmac and you’ll see workers sporting significant hearing protection to shelter their ears from excess noise. The chance of sighting hearing protection is much less likely, however, when you observe musicians at work – despite the fact their occupation puts them at significant risk for hearing loss. Noise induced hearing loss in musicians is a double blow, potentially limiting their ability to work.
Luckily, through education and outreach, paired with innovative sound protection, more and more sectors of the music industry are waking up to the reality of noise-induced hearing loss. Ongoing efforts can hopefully make hearing protection more commonplace and help musicians maintain their vital sense of hearing.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Much of our sense of hearing depends upon small sensory cells that are located in the cochlea of the inner ear. These “hair cells” have the nuanced job of picking up the vibrations of sound waves in the air. Sound waves of different frequencies vibrate and activate different hair cells which, in turn, transmit an electric signal to the brain that then processes meaning from the incoming sound.
Hair cells are incredible and also extremely delicate. The hair cells that we are born with are the only hair cells we will ever have – they cannot repair themselves or regenerate new hair cells if they are damaged. While hair cells have the elasticity to withstand a broad range of sound volumes, exposure to loud noises stress and damage the hair cells beyond repair. Once a hair cell is damaged, we lose that part of our hearing.
Over the course of our lifetime, noise induced hearing damage accumulates as more and more hair cells are unable to properly function. This accrues into significant noise-induced hearing loss, permanent damage that cannot be reversed.
When we think of hazardous noise, we most often think of sounds that are obnoxious or jolting like sirens, machinery, even the booming of fireworks. Sometimes, though, hazardous noise is a sound we enjoy, but coming at us at a volume that is too loud. Music is a prime example of this. Earbuds and headphones can deliver our favorite songs straight to our ear canal at decibel levels that cause permanent damage. The average rock concert projects volumes of 105 decibels that can result in lasting hearing damage after only 10 minutes of unprotected exposure.
Even the melodious sounds of classical music can harm our sensitive hearing if played loudly. Orchestra musicians who play amidst their cohort run the risk of dangerous noise levels, and hearing damage that can affect their livelihood. In a recent legal case in the United Kingdom, a concert violinist won the right to sue his symphony for work-related hearing damage, an ever-present hazard that the music industry has not had to address before.
Musicians often face exposure to excess noise levels not only as they perform, but as they practice as well. With amplification in tight practice spaces or studios, hearing loss can go hand in hand with honing a musician’s talent.
Protect Your Hearing
Protecting your hearing is key to preserving it. If you’re a musician this can be tricky. Often, musicians cite that traditional hearing protection muffles the sounds they need to hear to perform with others. However, hearing protection doesn’t have to be a Catch-22. Rather, new advancements have been made in hearing protection for musicians.
Earplugs designed specifically with the musician in mind use digital technology to limit noise exposure. Some protective plugs can dampen excessively loud sounds while allowing other sounds to be heard without dampening. Earplugs are also being designed to digitally adjust the level of hearing protection they provide based on the level of surrounding noise. Some designs optimize noise cancelling capacities to deliver a pure and safe experience of musical listening.
Want to take action to protect your hearing? Hearing Group can help. We offer personal care and testing, as well as a full selection of top hearing products. We can help you take preventative care of your hearing that fits your lifestyle.
If you do experience noise-related hearing loss, we can help. While permanent hearing damage can’t be restored, it can be effectively treated with hearing aids. Modern hearing aids offer custom programming that amplifies sound where it is needed most to preserve a rich soundscape and fuller sound palette. Want to take the next step? Contact us today to connect with hearing health!