Musicians and Hearing Loss: Safety Measures

Posted in: Hearing News  |  December 12, 2011 
Musicians and Hearing Loss: Safety Measures

Musicians’ hearing protection is critical, no matter the style of the performer. Rock bands have taken heat for their loud performances, but even a flute can play above 100 decibels.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) requires protection measures for workers exposed to 90 decibels or more for an eight-hour shift, and at levels of 115 decibels, the safety group says just 15 minutes of exposure is safe. Many PA systems – and even symphonic music – can exceed that mark.

The inner ear is delicate, and damage to it can be permanent. But with the proper precautions, musicians can find hearing-protection options to meet their needs.

Musicians’ earplugs
The best form of hearing protection for many musicians is a pair of custom fit, flat-frequency response earplugs. Although standard foam earplugs tend to attenuate high frequencies over low ones, these devices allow broader attenuation. Musicians’ earplugs are covered with soft silicone and offer attenuation of nine, 15 or 25 decibels. Correcting sound levels evenly across the frequency range is especially important for musicians, as distorted hearing can cause performers to sing or play louder to overcorrect.

Testing and positioning equipment
As speakers get older and start to short out, they can put out more treble and bass. It’s key for musicians to check their equipment regularly to ensure it’s performing as intended. In addition, because sound travels in a straight line, music will always seem louder to people in front of or behind speakers. Performers can stand to the side of their sound equipment or angle speakers away for a reprieve.

Ongoing hearing exams
Studies estimate that 30 to 50 percent of musicians suffer from hearing trouble. One of the most common issues in tinnitus (noise or ringing in the ears). Musicians should check with an ear, nose and throat specialist annually or biannually to watch for any hearing damage and treat any potential issues.

Musicians’ hearing protection is especially important for tuning, performing and building a long career. If you’re concerned you might have existing hearing damage – or want to see how you can prevent it – call us anytime.