Hearing Loss by Musicians – What you should know…

Facts, Treatments, Prevention Tips, Questions & Answers

We all love music. A lot of people prefer to listen to music loud. Loud music somehow sounds better. An overwhelming musical experience that stirs your emotions, rocks your soul and stimulates your brain.

However, long-term exposure to loud music and noise can do serious damage to your hearing, and result in permanent loss. Those who play music instruments are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of this excessive exposure to sound, coupled with the natural deterioration of our hearing due to aging can lead to hearing loss by musicians.

How We Hear

hearing loss by toronto musiciansThe ear is made up of three components, the outer, inner, and middle ear. We hear when sound waves pass through the outer ear and reverberate the eardrum and three small bones of the middle ear. From there, these vibrations are amplified as they pass via fluid into the inner ear and the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure that has tiny hairs attached to nerve cells that change these vibrations into electrical signals, which when transmitted to the brain then translates them into perceptible sound.

How Hearing Loss Happens

Hearing loss occurs when noise exposure causes wear-and-tear & damage on the tiny hairs or nerve cells of the cochlea resulting in the disruption of efficient electrical signal transmission and loss of signal translation in the brain.

Other causes of impaired hearing can include a build-up and blockage of ear wax, ear infections, tumors or abnormal growths, and ruptured ear drums caused by sudden noise exposure, perforation, or sudden change in pressure. Also, age-related degradation, genetics, occupational & recreational exposure, medications, and some diseases, like meningitis can damage the cochlea.

Types of Hearing Loss/Impairment

The modern medical community recognizes three primary types of hearing loss:
• Sensorineural
• Conductive
• Mixed

Sensorineural hearing loss

Occurs most commonly and is caused by an impairment of the auditory signal’s transmission to the brain. This can be attributed to damaged cells of the inner ear or the auditory nerve. The weakened or blocked signals impact the brain’s ability to recognize sound volume and clarity.

Since sensorineural loss occurs within the inner ear, hearing impairment is apparent. All symptoms will indicate trouble with hearing, like inability to hear and articulate conversation especially in noisy environments, difficulty discerning high-pitched sounds and certain speech affectations like “s” and “th”, plus volume levels, along with possible balance issues and dizziness.

Conductive hearing loss

Primarily occurs when an obstruction and/or damage of some kind in the outer and middle ear prevents sound from reaching the inner ear. Various causes can be responsible for the obstruction including ear wax buildup, unnatural growths, foreign bodies, infection/fluid buildup, otosclerosis, tympanosclerosis.

Since the issue with conductive hearing loss is obstruction-related outside the inner ear, the ability to hear is intact, just diminished. Symptoms can include impairment in one ear only, pain in one or both ears, feeling pressure within one or both ears, a foul odor emitting from the ears, a personal perception of altered voice.

Mixed hearing loss

Mixed hearing loss is a mix of Sensorineural and Conductive hearing loss and is generally attributed to a trauma of the ear. Alternatively, mixed loss may occur due to long-term conductive loss issues compounded further by age-related sensorineural loss.

How Loss of Hearing Affects Daily Life – Signs and Symptoms of Hearing Loss

Indications you may be suffering from hearing impairment include difficulty in following conversation, especially against background noise, a muffling-sensation of speech, asking people to speak up, speak more slowly and clearly, or constantly asking people to repeat themselves, or a need to turn up the volume of media play-back devices.

Aside from the primary effect of losing one’s hearing, other serious issues from hearing loss can arise which include, social withdrawal & isolation, depression, memory loss, cognitive impairment and the resulting decline in mental acuity and quality of life. It is important to seek medical attention if you discover a loss of hearing, whether it occurred quickly or gradually, to begin the process of preventative care and preservation.

Tinnitus can be connected to, and a consequence of, hearing loss. Tinnitus is generally described as chronic ringing ears and is a common phenomenon among musicians and the general public.
To read more about Tinnitus, check out our post, Click Here

Scroll down to see our list of Toronto hearing clinics & audiologists

Decibel Chart – Most severe to benign

(Any sound over 80 decibels is considered harmful to hearing health.)
• 150 db – Firecrackers
• 140 db – Jet Engine
• 130 db – Sirens
• 120 db – Rock Concert
• 110 db – Car Horn
• 100 db – Blow Dryer, Subway, Chainsaw
• 90 db – Motorcycle, Lawn Mower
• 80 db – Vacuum, Factory, Restaurant
• 70 db – Alarm Clock
• 60 db – Conversation
• 50 db – Office Environment
• 40 db – Refrigerator
• 30 db – Whispering, Library
• 20 db – Rustling Leaves
• 10 db – Breathing

How is Hearing Loss Diagnosed / Measured?

A doctor will employ several tests to determine the severity and cause of hearing loss. These can include a physical exam to check for obstructions, such as earwax, inflammation from a possible infection or any structural deformities that may be causing aural distortion. Other assessments may include the whisper test and tuning-fork test to measure response to minute sounds and an audiometer test administered by an audiologist to more-thoroughly identify the depth of hearing loss and impairment.

How is Hearing Loss Treated?

Depending on the exact nature of your impairment, there are several treatment options to correct and prevent further loss of hearing. These can include:

• Removal of excess earwax
• Surgery to correct abnormalities within the ear and eardrum, or excess fluid buildup and drainage
• Implementing hearing aids to assist with inner ear damage
• Cochlear implants for more severe cases, that directly stimulates the hearing nerves

Being a Musician with Hearing Loss

musicians hearing loss toronto

For musicians, hearing loss generally occurs across the very same spectrum as most instruments and vocals, resulting in a dull and muffled loss of vibrancy, and an inability to detect individual instruments in an ensemble. Problems can affect the perception of pitch and the differentiation between softness and loudness. Invariably, this can make it extremely difficult to sing, recognize melodies, and the intensity or the volume-level of the music being performed.

Classical Musicians and Hearing Loss

Classical musicians are particularly vulnerable to suffer from some form of hearing loss, tinnitus, and are susceptible to a condition known as hyperacusis, a physical and psychological aversion and sensitivity to moderately loud, high-pitch noises.

Because classical instruments seem relatively benign as compared with the cliched, loud hard rock amplifiers, most classical musicians tend to rehearse for longer periods of time in solo and ensemble settings thus greatly increasing damaging exposure from a variety of sources.

Tips for Preventing Musicians Hearing Loss

(How to protect your hearing as a musician)

Musicians can take several precautions to mitigate potential damage from continued exposure to loud music and frequencies. These can include:

• Rehearsing at diminished volume levels and in a room with ample space, ceiling height and acoustic sound treatments & absorption.
• Standing away from the drummer, which emits the most dangerous frequency from the high-hat cymbals, using sound baffles between the cymbals, avoiding the vicinity of the bass cabinet and employing sufficient spacing between all players.
• Avoiding the direct line in front of speakers, as these tend to emanate straight-line damaging high-end frequencies.
• In-Ear monitors can assist players and vocalists alike by amplifying their personal instrument mix without increasing overall volume.
• Tuned ear plugs can attenuate equally across the full spectrum of musical sounds, so the balance of music itself is unaltered.
• For drummers and bassists, shakers, which are small speakers wired into the main mix and affixed to the drummer’s seat or mounted near the bassist can subtlety amplify certain frequencies to give the impression of more volume.

Other tips and methods of living with diminished hearing include:

• Sharing with your support network the extent of your condition
• Conversing with people face-to-face, avoiding noisy environments & excessive background noise
• Using amplification devices and hearing aids

Do Headphones / Earphones, ear buds cause hearing loss?

Prolonged exposure, especially at higher volume levels, through headphones, ear buds, air pods, etc. can lead to hearing loss.

Toronto Hearing Clinics, Doctors, Audiologists List:

Updated: February 2020

Famous Musicians and Singers with Hearing Loss & Tinnitus:

• Ozzy Osbourne
• Phil Collins
• Liam Gallagher
• Chris Martin
• Trent Reznor
• Neil Young
• Eric Clapton
• Moby
• Pete Townsend
• Bob Dylan
• Sting
• Anthony Kiedis
• Beethoven