Professional musicians at greater risk of developing hearing loss

Contra Costa Hearing Blog

Celebrity, wealth, and screaming fans — these are some of the descriptions and phrases you’d apply to describe the everyday life of a professional musician. however, what you almost certainly wouldn’t think of is “hearing loss” or “,” the not-so-enjoyable side-effects of all that fame, wealth, and screaming. The unfortunate paradox is, a musician’s hearing is what is most sensitive to trauma from the performance of their craft.

The truth is, musicians are nearly four times more likely to experience noise-induced hearing loss compared with the average individual, as reported by researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology. The study also reported that professional musicians are up to 57% more likely to suffer from — a condition associated with a persistent ringing in the ears.

The cause: recurring subjection to deafening sound. In the long run, very loud sound will irreparably destroy the hair cells of the inner ear, which are the sensory receptors responsible for sending sound to the brain. Like an ample patch of grass worn out from repeated trampling, the hair cells can also be wiped out from repeated overexposure to loud noise – the major difference, of course, being that you can’t grow brand new hair cells.

Just how loud are rock concerts?

To illustrate the issue, hearing loss begins with repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels (decibels being a unit used to measure loudness). That is likely to not mean a great deal to you, until you consider the decibel levels connected with common activities:

  • Whisper at 6 feet: 30 decibels (dB)

  • Standard conversation at 3 feet: 60 – 65 (dB)

  • Motorcycle: 100 dB

  • Front row at a rock concert: 120 to 150 dB

In non-technical terms, rock concerts are literally ear-splittingly loud, and repeated unguarded exposure can cause some major harm, which, sadly, numerous popular musicians have recently attested to.

Chris Martin, the lead singer for the music group Coldplay, has struggled with Tinnitus for ten years. According to Martin:

“Looking after your ears is unfortunately something you don’t think about until there’s a problem. I’ve had for about 10 years, and since I started protecting my ears it hasn’t got any worse (touch wood). But I wish I’d thought about it earlier. Now we always use moulded filter plugs, or in-ear monitors, to try and protect our ears. You CAN use industrial headphones, but that looks strange at a party.”

Other celebrated musicians that suffer from hearing loss or include Neil Young, Ozzy Osbourne, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend, Bono, Sting, Ryan Adams, and more, many of which indicate regret that they hadn’t done more to give protection to their ears through the course of their careers. According to Lars Ulrich from Metallica:

“If you get a scratch on your nose, in a week that’ll be gone. When you scratch your hearing or damage your hearing, it doesn’t come back. I try to point out to younger kids … once your hearing is gone, it’s gone, and there’s no real remedy.”

How musicians can protect their ears with custom ear plugs

Although musicians are at a higher risk for acquiring hearing loss or , the risk can be considerably lowered by assuming protective measures. Considering the unique needs of musicians — and the significance of protecting the detConsidering the unique needs of musicians — and the significance of maintaining the fine details of sound — the initial step is to make an appointment with an audiologist.

Here’s a common mistake: musicians will frequently delay seeing an audiologist until they experience one or more of these signs or symptoms:

  • A ringing or buzzing noise in the ears

  • Any pain or discomfort in the ears

  • Difficulty comprehending speech

  • Trouble following discussions in the presence of background noise

The issue is, when these symptoms are found to exist, the harm has already been done. Therefore, the leading thing a musician can do to prevent long-term, permanent hearing loss is to schedule an appointment with an audiologist before symptoms are present.

If you’re a musician, an audiologist can recommend custom musicians’ plugs or in-ear-monitors that will give protection to your hearing without limiting your musical abilities. As a musician, you have distinctive needs for hearing and hearing protection, and audiologists or hearing instrument specialists are the experts specifically trained to supply this custom made protection.

Additionally, keep in mind that it’s not only musicians at risk: concert-goers are just as susceptible. So the next time you’re front row at a rock show, know that 120 decibels of hair-cell-killing volume is pumping right from the speakers right into your ears.


The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Schedule an appointment to see if hearing aids could benefit you.