• Healthy Hearing

    Posted on September 17, 2014 by Jessica Ryan in Musician Health.

     

    Did you know that the level of sound created by a symphony orchestra can reach up to 137 dB?[i] That’s almost as high as the 140 dB generated by a jet engine 100 feet away![ii] Frequent or continuous exposure to an orchestra playing at this volume can actually lead to hearing loss. Even people who spend a prolonged amount of time individually practicing an instrument put their hearing at risk, since many instruments, including the piano, violin, flute, timpani, and French horn, can produce sounds within or above the 90-95 dB range, where “regular sustained exposure can cause permanent damage.”[iii] Considering these facts, it’s no wonder that compared to other adults, professional musicians experience higher rates of hearing loss and tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.[iv]

    ""Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) occurs when the inner ear’s nerve receptors, or hair cells, deteriorate and die. When sound waves enter the ear and reach the hair cells, these cells bend to help create an electrical impulse that travels to the auditory nerve and ultimately, the brain. Hair cells sustain damage when exposed to sounds that are “too loud, too close, or last too long.”[v] Since the human body cannot regenerate hair cells, prolonged exposure to excessive noise, whether pleasant or unpleasant, can lead to permanent NIHL, which often starts with problems hearing high frequency tones.

    No matter how long the period of exposure, sounds under 75 dB generally will not harm hair cells, but louder sounds can cause damage over time. As noise increases in volume, advisable exposure time decreases. For instance, according to National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and CDC guidelines, an individual can safely listen to two uninterrupted hours of sound at a volume of 88 dB, but at 94 dB this shrinks to one hour, at 100 dB it becomes 15 minutes, and at 115 dB it dwindles to approximately 28 seconds.[vi]

    Luckily, if you’re a musician frequently producing and listening to dangerous levels of sound, you can take some precautions to protect your hearing. For example, you can practice in a way that avoids overtaxing your ears by taking care to not play any louder than necessary, switching between loud and soft pieces during sessions, and minimizing noise during regular breaks. In addition, you can monitor your exposure to noise outside of musical activities and listen to music on electronic devices at relatively low volumes.

    Many websites, publications, and books have additional guidelines for the prevention of hearing damage. They cover topics like room acoustics, ensemble layouts, and earplugs. Five especially helpful resources are:

    • A Sound Ear II—The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 and Their Impact On Orchestras: In this publication, the Association of British Orchestras discusses the impact of hearing music vs. noise, the extent of hearing damage among orchestra musicians, methods for conducting noise assessments, and steps that several UK orchestras have taken to protect musicians’ hearing. See pages 25-28 for suggestions about controlling exposure to sound through smart orchestra positioning, the effective use of shields, and proper hearing protection.
    • Musician’s Way—Wellness: Visit this page to find links to news articles, research, and guidelines for hearing loss prevention. You’ll also see links to recommended sound level meters, environmental modifications, and earplugs.
    • Musicians’ Clinics of Canada: Created by experts in the realm of music and hearing, this website’s FAQ page includes information about the causes of hearing loss, as well as suggestions for hearing protection and damage prevention. Submit your own query if you don’t already see the answer to your question, and check out the website’s articles page to view related research.
    • Playing Less Hurt: In this book all about musician health, you’ll find an entire chapter devoted to hearing. It explains how various diagnoses affect musicians, lists the warning signs of hearing loss, offers guidelines for safe exposure, and outlines prevention strategies for musicians and teachers. The book also contains information about the Etymotic Research ER-15 and ER-25 Musicians EarplugsTM, which were developed with musicians in mind and lessen incoming sound levels by 15 or 25 dB.
    • Sound Advice—Noise at Work in Music and Entertainment: This site was developed by a team of experts to help people follow the UK’s Noise at Work Regulations. Regardless of whether these laws apply to you, you may find it helpful to view the site’s special considerations and specific suggestions for concert halls and theatres, amplified live music, studios, schools and colleges, pubs and clubs, marching bands, and freelancers.

    Do you have any other resources that you’d like to share? Would you like to tell us some tips that have helped you preserve your hearing? Leave a comment below so that we can learn from your experiences and work together to keep our hearing sharp!



    [i] “Decibel Trivia.”  Hearnet.  H.E.A.R. Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers,  2013.  Web.  9 Sept. 2014.

    [ii] Ibid.

    [iii] Ibid.

    [iv] Aleccia, Jonel.  “Turn It Up? Musicians Run Far Higher Risk of Hearing Loss.”  NBC News.  National Broadcasting Company,  30 Apr. 2014.  Web.  9 Sept. 2014.

    [v] “Noise-Induced Hearing Loss.” National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.  National Institutes of Health, Mar. 2014.  Web.  16 Sept. 2014.

    [vi] Horvath, Janet.  Playing (less) Hurt: An Injury Prevention Guide for Musicians.  2009 ed.  Eau Claire:  Documentation LLC,  2009.  Print.

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