Jeff Beck, Phil Collins, Pete Townshend and Barbra Streisand – what trait do these diverse musicians all share? They all suffered permanent hearing loss, directly as a result of playing their music.
When I treat musicians, I have to tell them a sad but unavoidable fact of life – the very music they love to play may be damaging their hearing. Exposure to loud music causes noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), which can produce a temporary ringing in the ears (tinnitus); if you continue to expose yourself to the loud music, the condition can become permanent.
The hearing loss can happen to any musician, whether they play in a rock band, in a symphony orchestra, in a chamber music group, or just play at home when rehearsing. You can experience hearing loss when exposed for a prolonged period of time to any sound over 85 decibels (dB). While 85dB may sound like a high level of sound, even rehearsal situations can produce these levels. Rock musicians and classical alike are both exposed to excessive amplitude of sound; an unamplified violin reaches 103dB and an electric guitar produces 120dB. Estimates by audiologists say that more damage is done to musicians’ hearing during the hours they practice or rehearse than in the short periods they spend performing, onstage.
Fortunately, there is something you can do to protect your hearing – invest in a pair of earplugs; not the cheap foam earplugs you find in drugstores, but high-quality musicians earplugs. The first musicians earphones were invented by Etymotic Research, and other manufacturers still use their design to create specialized ear protection for musicians. These musicians earphones are better for your purposes because they allow you to hear the full frequency range of both music and speech, but at lower volumes that don’t damage hearing.
Universal-fit musicians earplugs, starting at about $15 a pair, can be found at most stores that sell musical instruments. But for the musicians I see – whether they play professionally or just for fun – I recommend custom-molded musicians earplugs with Etymotic filters, because of the greater protection they provide. The custom molded ear plugs will be more comfortable, will block more undesirable sounds while allowing you to hear the full range of music, and will be easier to maintain. When it comes to protecting your hearing from permanent damage it is well worth the added expense so you can enjoy performing your music for years to come.