Anyone who has ever been to a rock concert knows how astoundingly loud they can be. So it comes as no surprise to hear that according to new research, professional musicians are almost four times as likely to develop noise induced hearing loss than non-musicians and 57% more likely to develop tinnitus (loud ringing or buzzing in the ears).
Higher rates of hearing loss were seen in various types of career musicians, from those playing in rock bands to members of orchestras.
The findings, published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine, were based on data retrieved from three health insurance providers containing the medical details of seven million German citizens between 2004 and 2008. Although professional musicians made up just 0.03% of that population, 0.08% of insurance claims for hearing loss originated from the group. Results remained consistent even when adjusted for the effects of ageing and other environmental factors.
Noise-induced hearing loss can result from prolonged exposure to high intensity sounds or even from a single incidence of exposure to very loud noise. Occupational noise-induced hearing loss accounts for 10% of adult-onset hearing loss in Australia.
The authors of the study said that their findings make a strong case for special measures to protect musicians’ hearing. “Given the number of professional musicians and the severity of the outcome, leading to occupational disability and severe loss of quality of life, hearing loss in this group is of high public health importance,” they write. They also recommend that all musicians wear protective in-ear devices, such as these specialised musician plugs.
Many famous musicians have spoken publicly of their noise-induced hearing loss, including Phil Collins, Ozzy Osbourne, Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend. Dire Straits bassist John Illsley suffered hearing loss as a result of his performing career, and recently told the BBC, “You just get damaged, it’s one of those things…it really needs looking at pretty seriously.”