Jeff Beck, Neil Young, Ludwig van Beethoven and Eric Clapton – what trait do these diverse musicians all share? As a result of years of performing, they all have permanent hearing loss. When musicians come to me for treatment, I feel obliged to inform them of a lamentable fact of life – playing music may damage their hearing. Exposure to loud music causes noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), which can produce a temporary ringing in the ears (); if you continue to expose yourself to the loud music, the condition can become permanent.
The hearing loss can happen to any musician, whether they play in a rock band, in a symphony orchestra, in a chamber music group, or just play at home when rehearsing. You can experience hearing loss when exposed for a prolonged period of time to any sound over 85 decibels (dB). An electric guitar played onstage generates 120dB, but a violin can produce 103dB, and thus cause almost as much hearing loss. In fact, hearing instrument specialists researching hearing loss in musicians have found that overexposure to sound while rehearsing adds up to more hours than they spend on stage performing.
Fortunately, there is something you can do to protect your hearing – invest in a pair of earplugs; not the cheap foam earplugs you find in drugstores, but high-quality musicians earplugs. Manufactures of ear protection today still use the original and proven design first invented by Etymotic Research over 20 years ago. What makes them better than the cheap foam earplugs is that they allow you to hear music and speech accurately, at all frequencies, just at lowered volumes.
Stores that sell musical instruments and supplies carry what are called universal-fit earplugs for about $15 per pair. Whether you are a professional musician or just someone who plays for fun, I recommend a better form of protection – custom-molded musicians earplugs with the Etymotic filter in place. The custom molded ear plugs will be more comfortable, will block more undesirable sounds while allowing you to hear the full range of music, and will be easier to maintain. When it comes to protecting your hearing from permanent damage it is well worth the added expense so you can enjoy performing your music for years to come.