The Value of Protecting Your Hearing
Musicians appreciate that there’s nothing like really loud music (and maybe some liquid refreshment) to get a crowd into a party mood. The sound at live gigs is generally at the level that you can feel through your body – but what is it doing to your ears?
Literally millions of people world-wide suffer from tinnitus – a noise in their ears that only the sufferer can hear. This can vary in pitch from a low roar to a high whine, buzz, popping or rustling which is heard either constantly or intermittently. Tinnitus is generally the result of damage to the microscopic endings of the hearing nerve in the inner ear. Injury to these nerve endings is permanent, bringing on hearing loss and, very often, tinnitus. Nerve impairment is one of the many problems of the aging process of the human body and can result in loss of hearing and tinnitus – this is largely unavoidable. For younger sufferers, listening to loud music is the number one cause of tinnitus (although there are other possible causes than should be eliminated before assuming that loud music is the culprit). An otolaryngologist is qualified to assess the possible cause of tinnitus and also prescribe treatment. As there is no general cure-all treatment for tinnitus, it is important to consult a medical professional.
Does this mean that all loud music is out? Or if you are a tinnitus sufferer, you have no future as a musician? Fortunately, this does not have to be the case. There are a number of famous musicians and singers who are tinnitus sufferers (probably caused by loud music), but they refuse to let this take the joy out of their love for music. There is ongoing intensive research into this problem – both from the perspective of prevention, management and cure.
Musicians rely on their ears for their livelihood and so they are in a difficult position when it comes to noise – it goes with the job. However, there is a lot that can be done in the line of prevention – for both musicians and fans. Don’t wait until you are a tinnitus sufferer before you pay attention to the warnings. Musicians should visit an audiologist on a regular basis for a baseline hearing test. Regular hearing tests will monitor any noticeable changes and action can be taken.
One of the keys to hearing protection is to reduce the intensity and duration of sound exposure. Therefore musicians should be sure to take breaks during practice sessions and studio work. Choice of speakers and correct positioning of equipment may allow playing at lower volumes without losing the effect. Hearing protectors are available in various shapes, sizes, prices and levels of effectiveness. Custom molded hearing protectors are designed with musicians in mind to provide a high level of protection while not unduly interfering with the job at hand.
Although some may consider it “not cool” to use hearing protection or even see it as a sign of weakness, there is definitely nothing cool about permanent hearing damage that could have been avoided. Musicians need to be aware of their environment and the detrimental effect excessive noise could have on their livelihood, and make adjustments accordingly. Acting responsibly to protect the precious gift of hearing could motivate their audience and fans to do the same.