Posts Tagged ‘noise induced hearing loss’

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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Every day, almost 140 million Americans experience noise levels that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) categorizes as “annoying
or disruptive.”(xiv) Karen A. Bilich writes that children “are especially vulnerable to noise induced hearing loss – which often happens gradually and without pain – from overexposure to noise.”(xv) Almost 15 percent of children ages 6 to 17 show signs of hearing loss, according to a 1998 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. However, at this time there are no federal regulations in the United States that limit the noise levels of toys. The European standard is inadequate because it sets the sound threshold too high at 115 decibels, at which an exposure of less than 30 seconds can cause hearing loss. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that prolonged exposure to sounds at 85 decibels or higher can result in hearing damage (xvi). The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Campaign for Hearing Health also use 85 decibels as a threshold for dangerous levels of noise. The National Campaign for Hearing Health, in its Toxic Noise Guidelines, lists the following relationships between decibel levels and times of exposure (xvii):

• 85 decibels: Exposure over an 8-hour period risks hearing loss.
• 90 decibels: Exposure for 2 hours risks hearing loss.
• 97 decibels: Exposure for 30 minutes risks hearing loss.
• 100 decibels: Exposure for 15 minutes risks hearing loss.
• 110 decibels: Exposure for less than 2 minutes risks hearing loss
• 120 decibels: Exposure less than 30 seconds risks hearing loss.
• 130 decibels: Any exposure risks permanent hearing loss.

Standards for Loud Toys
As of November 2003, The American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM) finalized specifications for sound-producing toys that include (1) limiting the sound pressure level of hand-held, table-top and crib toys to a level not to exceed 90dB when measured from a distance of 25 centimeters; (2) limiting the sound pressure level of close-to-the-ear toys to a level not to exceed 70dB when measured from a distance of 25 centimeters; (3) limiting the sound pressure level of toys with impact-type impulsive sounds to a level not to exceed 120dB when measured from a distance of 25 centimeters; (4) limiting the sound pressure level of toys with explosive-type impulsive sounds to a level not to exceed 138dB when measured from a distance of 25 centimeters.

There are numerous exceptions to the standards(xviii) and the standards are voluntary. The standards, while a solid step in the right direction, are flawed (xix) and should be strengthened and stronger standards should be enforced by the CPSC.

This year, NYPIRG researchers identified numerous toys that were dangerously loud. For example, a surveyor identified a toy called “Learn Through Music” manufactured by Fisher Price that produces noise at 102dB at 10 centimeters and 92dB at 25 centimeters.

Fisher Price’s “Learn Through Music” is a dangerously loud toy targeted to very young children


To protect children from dangerously loud toys, NYPIRG supports the recommendations of the League for the Hard of Hearing: (1) If a toy sounds too loud for you in the store, don’t buy it. Children are even more sensitive to sound than adults. (2) Put tape over the speakers of any toys you already own that are too loud. This will reduce the noise levels of the toys. (3) Remove the batteries from loud toys. (4) Report a loud toy to the CPSC.

CPSC should: (1) Enforce the new ASTM standards to the fullest extent. (2) Consider strengthening the standards to be more protective of children’s delicate ears. Specifically, CPSC should consider lowering the threshold for hand-held toys from 90 dB to no higher than 85 dB.

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