It’s a common myth that noise-induced hearing loss in musicians is only experienced by those who play rock ‘n roll, but that’s not the case. Classical orchestra musicians are at risk as well.
A Massey researcher has found almost two-thirds of adult orchestral musicians have hearing loss. Dr. Sargunam Sivaraj performed extensive audiological evaluations on 183 Wellington-based orchestral musicians. He conducted hearing tests, measured their personal music exposure and studied the progression of hearing loss over time.
The study concluded that 61% of the adult musicians, ages 27-66 have experienced hearing loss; 22% in youth musicians, ages 18-38; 16% in child musicians, ages 8-12.
Hearing loss is found in all groups of musicians.It is not specific to those who play loud musical instruments or to musicians with many years of music exposure.The study found that the increased years of music exposure does cause progressive hearing loss in significant numbers of individual musicians.This trend is observed in all age groups of musicians but not in all musicians.The researcher explained that some musicians’ hearing loss starts at a very early age, and gradual deterioration is observed with increased music exposure. For others, hearing is well-preserved in spite of extensive exposure.
Female musicians were also found to have better hearing thresholds than males. Dr. Sargunam Sivaraj also found that the progression of hearing loss is slower in females than males.
Hearing loss is one of the leading and fastest growing disabilities. Dr. Sivaraj states that one third of all types of hearing loss can be attributed to music and noise exposure. The study revealed that although musicians are aware of the dangers of repeated exposure to loud music and the benefits of musicians’ plugs, very few used them.
Dr. Sivaraj noted that shortening rehearsals, incorporating a break in the midst of a session, and avoiding rehearsals and performances on the same day should be seriously considered to limit music exposure. He believes that young musicians need to be taught that their ears are their most important musical instrument!
“It is important we adopt different strategies for different individuals as there is a large individual variation in susceptibility or vulnerability to noise or music; otherwise prevention of hearing loss in musicians will remain an elusive goal.”