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Classical musicians at extreme risk for hearing loss Editor: You’re probably not surprised by this headline, because we’ve been hearing for years about all the common activities that can cause hearing loss. But you may be surprised to learn that it’s not just the loud music that endangers the hearing of classical musicians! Thanks to hearit.org for this article. Please visit them for more interesting articles on a wide range of hearing loss topics.

May 2008

An increasing number of classical musicians suffer from hearing loss, tinnitus and/or hyperacusis which may severely affect their professional and daily life. These conditions should be considered and treated as health care conditions.

Classical musicians are at extreme risk for hearing loss. A Finnish study among classical musicians found that 15 percent of the musicians in the study suffered from permanent tinnitus, in comparison to 2 percent among the general population. Temporary tinnitus affected another 41 percent of the musicians in group rehearsals and 18 percent of those in individual rehearsals. It is estimated that 15 percent of the general population experience tinnitus temporarily.

As many as 43 percent of the classical musicians suffered from hyperacusis, a hearing disorder characterized by reduced tolerance to specific sound levels not normally regarded as loud for people with normal hearing.

Hearing loss causes stress

83 percent of the musicians found their job stressful. Those suffering from hearing damage were three times more likely to suffer from stress according to the study. Suffering from tinnitus increased the stress prevalence five-fold, and those with hyperacusis were nine times more likely to suffer from stress.

Music can be noise

Up to half of the musicians in the study considered their work environment as noisy. Hearing loss figured prominently in this perception, as well. Musicians with hearing disorders were three to ten times more likely to consider their working environment as very noisy.

Classical musicians are exposed to high levels of noise for five to six hours daily. The sound level from a double bass, for example, may reach 83 dB, and a flute or the percussion instruments produce as much as 95 dB of noise. This is significantly above the 85 dB maximum recommended noise exposure limit in a workplace, established by the World Health Organization, WHO. In the European Union, the EU directive sets a daily noise exposure limit value of 87 dB in the workplace. If noise levels cannot be adequately reduced, hearing protection must be available and regular hearing tests must be conducted to safeguard the employees’ hearing health.

Few use hearing protection

Less than one musician in four in the Finnish study used hearing protection even though 70 percent of the musicians said they we concerned about their hearing. Among the musicians with normal hearing, only 10 to 15 percent used hearing protection, while the rate of hearing impaired musicians using hearing protection was about 10 percentage points higher.

Although special hearing protection has been designed for musicians, the musicians in the Finnish study said that they find it difficult to perform and hear the others playing when using hearing protection. They also found the hearing protection uncomfortable to wear and adjust. Some found them hard to use due to existing hearing problems. Others believed that music would not damage their hearing.

Source: “Effects of Noise on Classical Musicians”, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Tampere University Hospital, Finland, Magazine 8, European Agency for Safety and Health at Work.

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