Professional musicians are up to four times more likely to suffer deafness than the general public, according to research published in the online edition of Occupational & Environmental Medicine.
They are also 57% more likely to develop tinnitus – incessant ringing in the ears.
Infographic: How noise affects your health
Noise-induced hearing loss can be caused by a sudden very loud sound, such as a gunshot, but it may also develop gradually from repeated exposure to loud noise.
The study drew on health insurance data from three million German citizens, including 2227 musicians, between 2004 and 2008. Just under 284 000 cases of hearing loss were reported during this time.
The researchers' definition of "professional musician" included rock/pop and classical instrumental musicians, as well as singers, conductors and composers.
Risk from long-term loud music exposure outweighs benefit
Long-term exposure to industrial noise has been clearly linked to hearing damage, including the inability to hear the full range of sound. But previous research suggested that long-term exposure to music has the opposite effect, and increases hearing sensitivity.
The authors of the German musician study say that, although musicians' hearing may benefit from non-amplified and low-intensity music, their evidence indicates that in this group the risks of music-induced hearing loss outweigh the potential benefits to hearing ability.
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Musicians need ear-plugs
The researchers stress that hearing loss among professional musicians is of high public health importance, given the significant number of people who do this work and the consequent occupational disability and severe loss of quality of life.
They strongly recommended that the international professional music community educate their members as to the risks, and encourage hearing protection practices.
These might include the use of sound-dampening in-ear devices, for musicians playing in either rock bands or orchestras, and whenever sound amplifiers are employed.
Sound shields should also be installed between different sections of an orchestra, to lower the combined decibel level on musicians' ears.
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Schink, T. et al. 2014. Incidence and relative risk of hearing disorders in professional musicians. Occupational and Environmental Medicine
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