Hearing management

Updated 13 December 2017

Musicians have greater risk of hearing-loss

Professional musicians may have almost four times the risk of hearing loss compared to the general public.

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Whether playing in a symphony orchestra or a rock concert, professional musicians may have almost four times the risk of hearing loss as their audience does, according to a new study.

Based on medical records, German researchers found the workplace hazard of hearing damage for musicians, conductors and others in involved in musical performance is significant enough to warrant protective measures.

Common among musicians

"I have heard many, many famous musicians say that they would give back all of their success if the ringing in the ears and hearing loss would improve," said Rick Friedman, a professor of otolaryngology and neurosurgery at the USC Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles.

Read: Obesity linked to hearing loss

Hearing-related complaints are common among the many musicians he sees in the clinic, Friedman, who was not involved in the new study, told Reuters Health.

Tania Schink at the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology-BIPS in Bremen, and her colleagues looked at data from three German insurance agencies to compare diagnosed hearing problems among musicians and the general population.

Of the more than 3.3 million people ages 18 to 66 insured by the companies between 2004 and 2008, more than 2000 were identified as professional musicians by federal employment data.

Noise-induced hearing loss

Of the 2 227 musicians in the study, 238 had some type of hearing loss. Their issues included hearing loss caused by noise, ringing in the ears and hearing difficulties due to problems in the inner ear or in the brain.

About 280 000 of the 3.3 million non-musicians also suffered from a loss of hearing.

Overall, the musicians were 1.45 times as likely as non-musicians to have any type of hearing problem. But they were 3.6 times more likely to have noise-induced hearing loss, which was also the most common problem they reported.

Schink's team writes in the British medical journal BMJ that noise-induced hearing loss – which is the kind also suffered by workers in heavy industry or other jobs that regularly expose people to high decibel levels – is influenced by several factors.

For musicians, these include the number of years of exposure, whether they play amplified instruments and for orchestra musicians, their position in the orchestra relative to other players.

Need for prevention measures

"Given the number of professional musicians and the severity of the outcome, leading to occupational disability and severe loss of quality of life, hearing loss in professional musicians is of high public health importance," they write.

Read: Smoking tied to hearing loss

"Our data provide evidence of the need for prevention measures," such as special ear plugs and sound-protecting shields between the sections of an orchestra, they add.

Hearing loss can affect recreational musicians as well, Friedman points out. Even attending a loud concert or listening to music full-blast with headphones on can cause damage, he said.

"Research has shown that teenagers are starting to show signs of hearing loss due to loud music, whether (from) devices or concerts," he said.

Ringing in the ears after loud noise is a bad sign, he said. But even after hearing goes back to normal, hearing loss – which first affects higher-pitched sound – can continue to progress.

Lower sound intensity

"The damage may be silent. It accumulates over time as the (nerve or brain cells) die," Friedman said.

Read: Viagra may cause hearing loss

For people concerned about protecting their hearing, musician-grade earplugs are a good place to start, Friedman said. They preserve sound quality but lower its intensity.

These preventative measures should be taken starting early on, when the exposure to loud music begins, he adds. That's a point that is sometimes difficult to drive home among young music enthusiasts.

"The problem is when people are young, they feel like they are invincible," Friedman said. Unfortunately, that's just not the case.

"Playing loud music consistently without any hearing protection is basically a death sentence for the ear," he said.


Read more:

Types of hearing loss
Hearing loss: what does it mean?

 

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Hearing Expert

Dr Kara Hoffman graduated from UCT in 2004, thereafter she completed her year of community service in Durban. In 2010 she completed her Masters Degree in Paediatric Aural Rehabilitation from UKZN. In 2016, she became a Doctor of Audiology through the University of Arizona (ATSU). Dr Hoffman and her partner Lauren Thompson opened a fully diagnostic audiology practice called Thompson & Hoffman Audiology Inc. In 2011 with world-class technology and equipment to be able to offer the broad public all hearing-related services including hearing testing for adults and babies, vestibular (balance) assessments and rehabilitation, industrial audiology, hearing devices, central auditory processing assessments for school-aged children, school screening, neonatal hearing screening programmes at Alberlito and Parklands Hospital, cochlear implants and other implantable devices, medicolegal assessments and advanced electroacoustic assessments of hearing. Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. are based at Alberlito Hospital in Ballito, St Augustines Hospital in Durban and at 345 Essenwood Road, Musgrave. The practices are all wheelchair friendly. There are three audiologists that practice from Thompson & Hoffman – including Dr Kara Hoffman, Lauren Thompson & Minette Lister. The practice boasts professional, highly qualified, and extensive diagnostic services where all your hearing healthcare needs can be met. The additional licensing in vestibular assessment and rehabilitation, paediatric rehabilitation and cochlear implantation places this practice in one of the top specialist audiological positions in South Africa, with a wealth of experience in all clinical areas of audiology and is a very well respected and sought-after practice.

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