Whether you attend concerts, play guitar in a band or simply enjoy listening to music through earbuds or headphones, you are putting your hearing at risk unless you take precautions. Loud music can cause permanent hearing loss if you aren’t careful.
What Is Noise Induced Hearing Loss?
Exposure to loud sounds can cause irreversible damage to the sensory hair cells in the cochlea. These hair cells are responsible for converting sounds into electrical impulses that are forwarded to the brain for interpretation; when they are damaged, the signals become altered. Any sound that exceeds 85 decibels (dB) can cause harm; the louder the sound, the less time you have before risking long-term hearing loss.
Hearing loss caused by expose to loud sounds is known as noise induced hearing loss (NIDH). NIDH can be mild or severe, temporary or permanent. The more you are exposed to loud sounds, the higher the likelihood your condition will become permanent.
Are You Listening to Music too Loud?
You might be surprised to learn that decibel levels of music listened to with earbuds or headphones can average between 94 and 100 dB. If you have the volume turned all the way up that number can get as loud as 139 dB.
The average conversation measures around 60 dB with damage occurring at 85 dB. Listening to music that loud can lead to irreparable hearing loss.
What Are the Loudest Instruments?
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Sydney and the University of Queensland looked to identify the instrument that posed the greatest risk of hearing loss.
Researchers looked at 143 professional French horn players. The musicians who were 40 and younger had an 18 to 33 percent change of developing noise-induced hearing loss. And only 18 percent of those professional musicians wore any type of hearing protection.
Even when age is considered, there is still a significant effect on hearing from exposure to sound. This tells the researchers that it is crucial for orchestra members to start wearing hearing protection.
Hearing loss should be taken seriously, especially by musicians. Even mild hearing loss can result in difficulties discriminating pitch, which can affect a musician’s ability to perform.
How Do Musicians Protect Their Hearing?
Both the musicians onstage and those enjoying the show from the audience need to take precautions to protect their hearing. Below are five tips to help music enthusiasts preserve their sense of hearing so they can enjoy the music for years to come.
Whether a one-size-fits-all product from the pharmacy or a custom-made earplug crafted from a mold of your ear, wearing earplugs is the simplest and most effective way to protect your hearing. High-end earplugs are able to absorb the noise pressure that can cause damage to your hearing while compromising none of the sound quality. Other plugs work by decreasing the decibel level without altering the clarity of the music.
Rehearse at a Safe Volume
While musicians will go all-out for a sold-out show, there is no reason to put your hearing at risk in rehearsal. Playing a song more quietly can help you break down the structure of the song, giving you an opportunity to hear how the different parts work together.
Turning your volume down, even a little bit, can help protect your hearing.
Take a Step Back
Location is everything. There is no reason you need to stand directly in front of a speaker or monitor, as the best sound is often found in between speakers. Try moving a few rows back, especially if you are in a small venue.
Understanding what causes hearing loss can help you protect yourself. Sounds are measured in decibels (dB), and anything over 85 dB can cause damage to your ears.
The louder the sound, the shorter time you need to be exposed in order for it to cause irreversible damage. Decibel readers are available to help you monitor your music. If you don’t have one, there are a number of smartphone apps, many of which are free, that can get an accurate rating.
How Do You Listen Safely?
Fortunately, you do not need to choose between your love of listening to music and keeping your hearing intact. To reduce your risk of long-term damage, your audiologist recommends adopting the “60/60 rule” — listening to music at 60 percent of maximum volume for 60 minutes at a time and taking a break afterward to give your ears a chance to recover. You should also consider a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, which generate a sound wave that is 180 degrees opposite of the pitch of background noise, effectively cancelling it out and allowing you to listen to music at lower (safer) volume levels.
How Do You Know if You Have Hearing Loss?
If you experience any of the following symptoms of hearing loss, it’s important to schedule a hearing test right away.
- Conversations sound muffled, or you experience an “underwater” sensation.
- You have difficulty deciphering consonant sounds.
- It is difficult to follow conversations when background noise is present.
- You’re constantly asking people to slow down or repeat themselves.
- You turn up the TV so loud it is uncomfortable for others.
- Telephone conversations are difficult.
- People tell you you’re misunderstanding them.
Even if you don’t experience any signs of hearing loss, you should have your hearing screened periodically in order to catch potential problems early, especially if you are a musician.
What Does Hearing Evaluation Entail?
A comprehensive audiology evaluation consists of a series of individual diagnostic tests that measure different aspects of your hearing. Following a physical examination and a review of your medical history, you will be given any or all of the following tests:
- Pure tone testing
- Bone conduction testing
- Speech testing
- Acoustic reflex testing
We offer extended high frequency testing for musicians.
If we determine you do have hearing loss, we will provide you with recommendations on treatment plans and how to take care of your ears moving forward.
Call Victory Hearing & Balance at (512) 428-8355 for more information or to schedule an appointment.