What musicians can teach us about noise and hearing loss

Photo credit: Athena

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Musicians know a lot about noise and what it does to their hearing. That’s the topic discussed in a report on CNET by writer Jessica Rendall. She reports that noise causes hearing loss and other auditory problems and these issues are much more common among musicians than in the general public. Because medical professionals know how many pioneering rock stars have developed auditory problems over decades of performing, many musicians are now trying to protect their ears to keep from developing these same problems.

Rendall quotes Tricia Ashby-Scabis, director of audiology practices at the American Speech-Hearing-Language Association, who said that unwanted loud noise from a jackhammer has the same effect as wanted noise from loud rock music; both cause auditory damage. That damage results in hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hyperacusis (a sensitivity to loud noise that doesn’t bother others). The report goes on to discuss newer hearing protection methods — like in-ear monitors — that musicians are using to allow them to hear enough of the music and lyrics to perform while still protecting their hearing. 

The recognition that even wanted sound can cause hearing loss is an important one, one embodied in the new definition of noise that was developed with the collaboration of my colleagues at the Quiet Coalition and published in 2019: “noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound.” The new definition of noise has been cited in 27 scientific publications, and was recently adopted by the International Commission on Biological Effects of Noise. We are trying to get other national and international organizations and standards-setting bodies to adopt this new definition.

Please join the Quiet Coalition and Quiet Communities in spreading the knowledge that noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound. Become a member or donate to help us make the world a quieter, happier, healthier and better world for all.

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