How a career in music could affect your hearing

Research has shown that people in the music industry are at considerable risk of developing tinnitus, largely due to exposure to loud noise.

Focusing on tinnitus

Being a musician might be hard on your hearing, new British research suggests.

Those in the music industry have a much higher risk of tinnitus than people who work in quieter settings, a new study finds.

Exposure to loud noise

People with tinnitus hear ringing, buzzing or whistling noises when there are no external sounds.

“Our research shows that people working in the music industry are at considerable risk of developing tinnitus, and this risk is largely due to exposure to loud noise,” said Sam Couth, from the Center for Audiology and Deafness at the University of Manchester.

“Musicians are advised to wear hearing protection when noise levels exceed 85 decibels, which is roughly equivalent to the noise produced by a passing diesel truck,” Couth added in a university news release.

In this study, researchers analysed data from an online database of 23 000 people in the United Kingdom to compare tinnitus rates among people who work in high-risk jobs – such as construction, agriculture and music – to low-risk people in the financial sector.

People in the music industry – including musicians, music directors and production staff – are nearly twice as likely to develop tinnitus as those in the financial industry, according to the study published in the journal Trends in Hearing.

Even classical music

The risk among music industry workers includes all genres of music, even classical. For example, earlier this year, the Royal Opera House lost an appeal over hearing damage suffered by a viola player at a single rehearsal of Wagner’s “Die Walküre” (The Valkyrie).

The length of safe noise exposure is reduced by half for every three decibels increase in noise intensity, according to experts. For example, that would be four hours of daily exposure for 88 decibels of noise, two hours for 91 decibels, and so on.

“Most amplified concerts exceed 100 decibels, meaning that musicians shouldn’t be exposed to that level of noise for more than 15 minutes without proper hearing protection,” Couth said.

However, previous research shows that “only 6% of musicians consistently wear hearing protection,” he added.

“Musicians should wear earplugs designed specifically for listening to music so that the quality of the sound remains high, whilst the risk of hearing damage is reduced,” Couth advised.

Focusing on tinnitus

Do you ever experience a ringing in your ears? Tinnitus is a common hearing problem affecting as many as one in every five people, yet many of us have never even heard of the condition.

It involves hearing a sound, particularly ringing or buzzing noises, when no sound is actually present and can be caused by a number of factors including age-related hearing loss, a build-up of earwax and exposure to loud noises.

In a series of upcoming articles, Health24’s current Hearing Expert, audiologist Tarryn Richardson, will explore the topic of tinnitus with the aim of creating greater awareness of the condition.

If you have been diagnosed with tinnitus or suspect that you may be suffering from the condition, these articles should assist in answering some of your questions.

There will also be a new series of poll questions in the Hearing Centre that focus on the topic of tinnitus. You will find these on the right-hand side of any page in the Hearing Management Centre.

10 tinnitus facts

Most of us take our senses for granted until something goes wrong with one of them. Can you imagine going through life with a roaring, ringing, hissing or whooshing noise in your head every day? That’s what tinnitus sufferers have to deal with.

Here are some need-to-know facts about this condition.

  • Tinnitus is an auditory perception that is produced by external stimulus. It is described as a hissing, roaring, ringing or whooshing sound. It can also be tonal, ranging from high pitch to low pitch, multi-tonal or noise-like.
  • About 10-15% of the population has tinnitus. 1% reports that it is severe enough to affect their daily lives, but only 10% of adults will seek professional help. It may begin suddenly or manifest over time. It is more prevalent in males.
  • Tinnitus can be located in the ear or ears, or in the head. It could occur in one ear only or in both.
  • The most common difficulties people experience are getting to sleep, persistence of tinnitus, irritation, interrupted concentration and fear.
  • Tinnitus can be classified into two categories: objective and subjective. Objective tinnitus may or not be audible to a person, but it is audible to an observer with a stethoscope or simply listening in close proximity to the ear. In most cases objective tinnitus can be determined and treatment can be prescribed. Subjective tinnitus is audible only to the person and is the most common form.
  • The cause of subjective tinnitus is still being researched. Subjective tinnitus is a symptom that is associated with every known otologic disorder.
  • Factors that trigger tinnitus include physical conditions such a hearing loss, psychological issues and stress.
  • Diagnosis is made through a clinical examination and consists of a medical and audiological evaluation. A neurological and/or psychological evaluation may also be required.  
  • Treatment is aimed at eliminating the disease causing tinnitus rather than alleviating the symptom. However, because the causes of tinnitus are unknown or either untreatable, treatment has been focused on symptom control. Management of tinnitus includes surgery, drug therapy, nutritional management, masking (this is when sound is used to cover up or alter the production of tinnitus), electrical stimulation and cochlear implants.
  • Counselling is also an important factor in treatment and management. It is critical to allow a tinnitus sufferer to express his or her feelings.

Published by Health24 on  16 December 2019

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