Hearing management

Updated 29 January 2015

French horn may hurt musicians' ears

Out of all the instruments in the orchestra pit, the brass French horn is the one most likely to hurt your ears.

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Budding musicians, listen up: Out of all the instruments in the orchestra pit, the brass French horn is the one most likely to hurt your ears, according to new research.

Say what? Professional French horn players are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss and should take steps to protect their ears, according to the study by at least one researcher with a personal stake in preserving musicians' hearing.

Australian researchers assessed the hearing of 144 professional French horn players and found that 11% to 22% of them showed some form of noise-induced hearing loss, according to the findings in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.

"Looking at those aged 40 years or younger and also correcting for age, the number of horn players with an apparent hearing loss rose to between 17% and 33%," study author Ian O'Brien, a doctoral degree candidate at the University of Sydney and a professional French horn player, said in a journal news release.

Hearing protection

The results provide further evidence that French horn players are among the professional orchestra musicians most at risk for developing noise-induced hearing loss, according to the release.

French horn players described their hearing protection practices to researchers as part of the study.

"We were surprised to find that only 18% of participants reported using any form of hearing protection," lead investigator Wayne Wilson, a senior lecturer in audiology at the University of Queensland, said in the news release.

"Even within that 18%, the use of hearing protection appears to be inadequate, with 81% of these participants reporting their frequency of use as 'sometimes' and 50% reporting they use generic, foam or other inferior forms of protection," Wilson noted.

The findings "reinforce the need to educate horn players, their mentors and audiologists about the need to protect hearing and how best to achieve this while still enabling musicians to play to the highest level," professional musician O'Brien said.

While the study found evidence of hearing loss in some professional horn players, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

"Even mild hearing loss can result in difficulties discriminating pitch, abnormal loudness growth and tinnitus, all of which can affect a musician's ability to perform, subsequently jeopardising his or her livelihood," O'Brien explained.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders has more about noise-induced hearing loss.

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Hearing Expert

Francis Slabber is a Speech & Language Therapist and Audiologist who has owned and run The Hearing Clinic in Wynberg, Cape Town for the last 17 years. Francis and her team have extensive experience in fitting and supplying hearing aids as well as assistive living devices. Francis has served as the Western Cape Chairperson for the South African Association of Audiologists for three years and has given many talks on the topic of hearing loss and amplification. The Hearing Clinic has a special interest in adult and geriatric hearing impairment, hearing aid fittings and hearing rehabilitation.

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