From the tunes blaring through your earbuds, to the roar of traffic, airplanes and other ambient noises, to the blast of sound at concerts, parties, movies, theaters and even retail outlets, the message is loud and clear: we live in an increasingly noisy world. Though it's popular to "turn it up," consistent overexposure to loud noise is damaging. Approximately 15% of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 have hearing loss that may have been caused by noise exposure,1 and music creators are four times more likely to suffer from hearing damage that's 100% preventable.2 Musicians are almost 60% more likely to suffer from tinnitus,3 the sensation of hearing phantom sound commonly described as "ringing" and attributed to damaging noise exposure.
No matter their preferred style and genre, all music creators and fans can be harmed by noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Musicians have a much higher rate of hearing issues because damage results from sound volume and duration.4 According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), hearing loss begins with long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels. As a symphonic orchestra reaches 120 decibels to 137 decibels and a full-throttle rock concert tops 150 decibels, there is an obvious problem. Loud sounds can damage microscopic hair cells that line the inner ear, known as stereocilia. Those hair cells don’t grow back, so the loss is permanent, according to the NIDCD. In many people, this leads to muffled or distorted sounds or the need to use hearing aids to amplify sound.
Ironically, NIHL is totally preventable with proper hearing protection, yet many music creators are either unaware of preventive measures, or choose not to take the necessary steps. Some of the inaction stems from the cultures within musical genres. Band and orchestral artists have similar rates of hearing loss due to consistent overexposure to noise in rehearsals and concerts, yet band members are significantly less likely to perceive risk or use protective equipment. Among band types, a 2016 study found that pipe band musicians had the highest incidence of hearing loss, greatest awareness of risk, and highest rates of earplug and screen use. In contrast, brass band players demonstrated poor risk awareness and a reluctance to use protective equipment.5 When it comes to rock, a 2015 study found hearing loss in 37.8% of rockers. Among Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, 60% have some sort of hearing loss, according to Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers (H.E.A.R.).