How Musicians Can Reduce the Chances of Future Hearing Problems

Brian Wilson, Neil Young, Pete Townshend and Barbra Streisand – what trait do these diverse musicians all share? As a result of years of performing, they all have permanent hearing loss. When I treat musicians, I have to tell them a sad but unavoidable fact of life – the very music they love to play may be damaging their hearing. When a musician is exposed to loud music they can suffer from noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) which produces ringing in the ears, sometimes referred to as tinnitus. With similar ongoing exposure permanent hearing loss can result.

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. It has been estimated that musicians do more damage to their ears during the hours that they rehearse alone than they do in the short times they spend on stage.

Musicians can take steps to protect their hearing despite this unavoidable exposure to sound that exceeds acceptable levels, even in seemingly quiet rehearsal settings. When investing in high-quality ear protection beyond what can be had from drug-store Styrofoam ear plugs, performers can trust their hearing is protected. The first musicians earphones were invented by Etymotic Research, and other manufacturers still use their design to create specialized ear protection for musicians. These musicians earphones are better for your purposes because they allow you to hear the full frequency range of both music and speech, but at lower volumes that don’t damage hearing.

Universal-fit musicians earplugs, starting at about $15 a pair, can be found at most stores that sell musical instruments. But for the musicians I see – whether they play professionally or just for fun – I recommend custom-molded musicians earplugs with Etymotic filters, because of the greater protection they provide. 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.

Crowded Rooms, Background Noise and Your Hearing

Patients often ask why hearing in crowds of people is especially tough for them. They report that they don’t seem to have any problem hearing people and understanding what they say when they are speaking to them one-on-one, or even in small groups. But in a crowd, such as a noisy party or in large public gatherings, suddenly it becomes difficult to understand what the person speaking to them is saying, or to distinguish the speaker’s voice from the background sounds. People who complain of this condition often report that they have difficulty distinguishing between consonants such as the letters “S,” “H,” and “F.”

If this situation sounds familiar to you, it may be an indication that you have suffered some degree of high-frequency hearing loss. Human speech, especially the consonants “S,” “H,” and “F,” fall into the range of sounds between 3000 and 8000 Hz, which scientists define as “high-frequency.” In a crowd, what you hear is a mixture of frequencies, with the high frequencies of human speech “competing” with lower-frequency sounds such as music or the noise of people walking or dancing. Those suffering from high-frequency hearing loss tend to perceive the low-frequency sounds (which in this case qualify as noise) as sounding louder than the high-frequency sounds they are trying to focus on – the voices of people speaking to them.

At least 18% of the population suffers from some form of high-frequency hearing loss. The most common cause of this is aging, but in recent years audiologists have found increasing numbers of teenagers and young adults suffering from it, possibly as a result of listening to overly loud music. There are other potential causes, including genetic factors, diabetes, exposure to toxic drugs such as chemotherapy agents, and other diseases.

If you have indeed suffered some high-frequency hearing loss, it can be treated. Modern hearing aids can be tuned to amplify certain frequencies while suppressing others. This makes it possible to adjust a hearing aid specifically for high-frequency hearing loss and better hearing in crowds.

If you have trouble hearing in crowds, your first step should be to make an appointment with one of our specialists, so that we can determine whether you have suffered some form of hearing loss. There are other causes for this, and our specialists can perform tests to determine whether the cause in your case really is hearing loss, and if so, treat it.

Shopping for a Compatible Hearing Aid / Cellular Phone Combination

Hearing aids have not previously always worked effectively with cellular phones, because of electronic interference between the two devices that caused static, whizzing or squealing noises, or lost words. Technology improvements along with new regulations have mostly eliminated this problem. Today cell phone – hearing aid compatibility isn’t the huge problem it used to be. The regulations mandated new labeling requirements and ratings that help you to find a mobile phone that works well with your hearing aid.

To understand how this rating system works, you should first understand the two modes that hearing aids work in – M mode (for microphone) and T mode (for telecoil). In M mode, the hearing aid uses the internal microphone to detect sounds and amplify them. In T mode, the hearing aid uses telecoil technology instead. The hearing aid is able to pick up the electromagnetic signals from inside the phone directly. Roughly 60 percent of all mobile phones sold in the U.S. have a telecoil (T) mode.

The two modes – M and T – are each rated on a scale of 1 to 4 where 1 is the lowest sensitivity and 4 is the highest. To be labeled as hearing aid compatible (HAC) a mobile phone must carry a minimum rating of M3 or T3.

Hearing aids themselves also carry M and T ratings to indicate their sensitivity and ability to block interference in each mode. When shopping for a phone, to determine its compatibility with your hearing aid, simply add its M and T ratings together with those of the phone to create a combined rating. A sum of 6 or more makes a solid pairing. That hearing aid and cell phone combination should work well for you. A combined rating of 5 is thought of as normal, and suitable for most people. If the combined rating is 4, this is thought of as acceptable but not very usable if you make a lot of extended phone calls.

This combined rating system makes it easy to shop for a mobile phone online, because it easily allows you to determine how compatible it will be with your hearing aid. If you are able to shop in a store that allows you to “try before you buy” and actually use the phone you want while wearing your hearing aid, that is of course a better idea.

Avoiding Typical First Time Hearing Aid Purchaser Mistakes

If you’re shopping for your first hearing aid and finding the process confusing, you are not alone. When Consumer Reports did a comparative report on hearing aids, they followed consumers for six months as they tried to figure out which one to buy. What they found was less than satisfying, because they found that two-thirds [...]

[Continue reading…]

Detecting the Early Warning Symptoms of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss has various forms – it might occur gradually (for example, due to aging) or all of a sudden (due to an accident or trauma). The experience of hearing loss may range from mild episodes of not hearing conversations properly to extreme periods of total deafness, and may be either temporary or permanent. Moreover, [...]

[Continue reading…]

Home Safety Advice if a Member of Your Household is Hearing Impaired

One topic which is rarely discussed with regards to hearing loss is how to keep people who have suffered it safe in their own homes. For instance, suppose that a fire starts in your house; if you’re like most of us you have smoke alarms to sound a warning so that you and your family [...]

[Continue reading…]

Typical Lifespan for Your Hearing Aid Batteries

The question of precisely how long hearing aid batteries should be expected to last isn’t as simple to respond to as it seems, because battery life depends on many factors. One factor is the company manufacturing the hearing aid. Battery performance differs by manufacturer and also across models from the same company. The actual life [...]

[Continue reading…]