Preventing Long Term NIHL in Amateur and Professional Musicians

In addition to all of them being musicians, what do Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Ludwig van Beethoven and Jeff Beck have in common? As a result of years of performing, they all have permanent hearing loss. 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.

And this is true whether you play in a rock band onstage in front of thousands, in a symphony orchestra, in a chamber music group, or at home, rehearsing. Hearing loss can occur when exposed to any sound over 85 decibels (dB) in volume for prolonged lengths of time. 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.

Musicians can take steps to protect their hearing despite this unavoidable exposure to sound that exceeds acceptable levels, even in seemingly quiet rehearsal settings. When investing in high-quality ear protection beyond what can be had from drug-store Styrofoam ear plugs, performers can trust their hearing is protected. Manufactures of ear protection today still use the original and proven design first invented by Etymotic Research over 20 years ago. 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.

You can find universal-fit musicians earplugs in most stores that sell musical instruments, starting at about $15 a pair. 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. These will be more comfortable to wear for long periods of time, more effective at blocking undesirable levels of noise while allowing you to hear the music properly, and easier to clean and care for. 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.