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.