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Turn it Down: Reducing the Risk of Hearing Disorders Among Musicians

Posted on by Chuck Kardous, Thais Morata, Christa Themann, Patricia Spears, and Sue Afanuh

musicians

Have you ever gone to a concert or performance and found your ears ringing on the way home?  Imagine if that was your job and your ears were exposed regularly to such loud sound levels?  Orchestra players, music teachers, conductors, DJ’s, band members, singers, sound engineers, and many others may be exposed to dangerously high music levels as part of their work. Professional musicians work and practice in a variety of venues, ranging from large music halls, theatres, and arenas to smaller clubs or music rooms in schools and universities. Overexposure to sound, both in terms of intensity and duration, is common. Musicians value and need good hearing for their jobs, but many are not fully aware of the risks associated with exposure to potentially harmful sound levels or the options for reducing these exposures without compromising their performance abilities.

Recently, NIOSH received a request for assistance in measuring and mitigating exposures during school band rehearsals (see the Health Hazard Evaluation report. Several professional musicians’ groups are starting to recognize the burden of hearing loss and tinnitus among musicians, and some have encouraged NIOSH to conduct research and provide guidance towards prevention (see input received in a public NIOSH Docket. As a result, NIOSH recently developed a Workplace Solutions document: Reducing the Risk of Hearing Disorders among Musicians. The document provides scientific justification, clarification, and an evidence-based perspective that musicians can trust and apply in their work and musical activities. Because being able to hear music is part of musicians’ work and the music is the direct result of the musicians’ deliberate action (vs. a side effect of heavy machinery), common “industrial” hearing conservation solutions may not be appropriate or effective.

Musicians have irregular and unpredictable exposures, and their work schedules are considerably different from those of typical industrial workers. Effective interventions must be behavioral and rely primarily on awareness, knowledge, competency, and accountability of those producing music.

NIOSH recommends that employers, music venue operators, schools and colleges, consider the following actions to reduce potential hearing damage for musicians, music teachers and students, and other exposed workers:

  • Encourage participation in educational and awareness campaigns on music-induced hearing loss.
  • Conduct regular sound level assessments to identify whether levels ever exceed 85 dB(A).
  • If sound levels are above 85 dB(A), implement a hearing loss prevention program that includes annual hearing testing and training.
  • Identify hearing protection solutions that work best for the individual musicians or affected workers.

Musicians should consider taking the following actions:

  • Monitor the level and duration of your exposure to musical sounds. If professional sound measurement equipment are not available, some smartphone apps have provide useful and accurate information about sound levels see related blog.
  • Play music at lower levels during individual and group rehearsals, whenever possible.
  • Get a yearly hearing evaluation by a licensed audiologist.
  • Give your ears some rest; take advantage of breaks in quiet areas when possible.
  • Wear hearing protection when appropriate, some hearing protectors are manufactured and targeted specifically for musicians.

More information is available in a previous NIOSH science blog. This blog presented some approaches musicians can take to prevent hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears) from overexposure to sound. The blog highlighted contributions made by several Safe-in-Sound Excellence in Hearing Loss Prevention Award™ winners who pioneered efforts to reach musicians and other professionals exposed to music. In 2014, Benjamin Kanters, founder of the Hear Tomorrow program at Columbia College in Chicago, also received a Safe-In-Sound Award for Innovation in Hearing Loss Prevention for his work spearheading the Hearing Conservation Workshop. This workshop teaches hearing awareness and conservation to students in the fields of audio engineering, music recording, and hearing sciences.

Encouraging research also shows that practices and habits towards hearing health are changing among some professional musicians [O’Brien et al. 2015; Santucci 2010]. Awareness is also growing among those who attend concerts or night clubs [Beach et al. 2015; Beach et al. 2010]. Are you aware of other resources which we did not mention? Please share them and tell us about ideas and solutions you have about music exposure and hearing health.

Click here to download the complete “Workplace Solutions: Reducing the Risk of Hearing Disorders among Musicians.

Chucri Kardous, MS, PE is a research engineer with the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology.

Thais C. Morata, Ph.D. is a research audiologist with the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology and the Coordinator of the NORA Manufacturing Sector Council.

Christa L. Themann, MA, CCC-A, is an audiologist with the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology.

Patricia L. Spears is a summer intern with the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology.

Susan E. Afanuh, MA, is a technical informational specialist with the NIOSH Education and Information Division.

 

References

Beach EF, Nielsen L, Gilliver M [2015]. Providing earplugs to young adults at risk encourages protective behaviour in music venues. Glob Health Promot Feb 6.

Beach E, Williams W, Gilliver M [2010]. Hearing protection for clubbers is music to their ears. Health Promot J Austr 21(3):215–221).

O’Brien I, Driscoll T, Ackermann B [2015]. Description and evaluation of a hearing conservation program in use in a professional symphony orchestra. Ann Occup Hyg 59(3):265–276.

Santucci M [2010]. Saving the music industry from itself. Hearing J 63(6):10–14.

Posted on by Chuck Kardous, Thais Morata, Christa Themann, Patricia Spears, and Sue Afanuh

15 comments on “Turn it Down: Reducing the Risk of Hearing Disorders Among Musicians”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Thank you, Dr. Chasin, please feel free to repost.

    Great blog. Thank you. A former Audiology Student at the University of Cincinnati (Ryan Johnson – now in private practice in California) did his research capstone project on pitch discrimination with musicians’ ear plugs. Many musicians are reluctant to use hearing protection as they fear use of plugs will adversely affect their perception of their music. At least in the area of pitch perception Ryan’s study showed that pitch perception was not adversely affected with use of musicians’ plugs. His study is currently under review for publication.

    Great to see a much needed USA blog on this subject!
    If anyone is interested in the links to two resources mentioned as “excellent” in the full Workplace Solutions Document they are as follows:

    WorkSafe Western Australia Commission “Control of Noise in the Music Entertainment Industry”
    https://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/publications/code-practice-control-noise-music-entertainment-industry

    and the UK HSE “Sound Advice” website at http://www.soundadvice.info/

    Thank you so much for this blog and the information – I will definitely circulate the fact sheet and other references.

    Thanks for the amazing information You gave in the article.Found it very much useful and I will make sure that I come back again

    I am so glad to read this blog. In Brazil we have been made some researchs and we can see that the level sound pressure in brazilians concerts is above 110dB. Incredible! We need give a lot of informations and education to musicians. I am work hard in this field …step by step..Thanks to give us support to help our musicians! Katya

    Unfortunately, this a problem that doesn’t have so much attention in Portugal. We are trying to change this, with specific programs in the music schools and with professional musicians. It has not been an easy task. However, it is very good to see people with the same concerns working together. Thank you

    Thanks for sharing this information. While exposure to loud music is certainly poses a risk to the hearing of musicians, the listeners are often at risk as well.

    WHO estimates that over 1 billion young persons are at risk of hearing loss due to unsafe practices of listening to music at loud volumes and over prolonged periods of time. In this regard WHO launched the Make Listening Safe initiative. Read more at
    http://www.who.int/pbd/deafness/activities/MLS/en/

    On 1 October 2015, the WHO-ITU Joint Stakeholders’ Consultation on Safe Listening Devices, will be held at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Read more about it and be a part of this initiative
    http://www.who.int/pbd/deafness/news/safe_listening/en/

    New Orleans Musicians Clinic and Assistance Foundation have shared the link on our facebook page as well as our Save New Orleans Sounds page. Thank you for opening up the dialogue.

    Thank you for helping to get the word out. Please encourage your membership to contact us with any questions.

    The City of Phoenix, AZ issues permits to rock bands to play in the city park from dawn until dark with the decibel levels imposed upon the community well beyond the safe levels. Citizens complain and still the permits are issued and no safe decibel levels are maintained. Children who play in the park and near the park deserve protection from hearing loss caused by irresponsible selfish young adults.

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