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October 20, 2014

High rate of hearing loss among professional musicians

Professional musicians are almost four times more likely to develop noise induced hearing loss than the general public, a study suggests.

High rate of hearing loss among professional musicians

It is commonly known that noise can damage hearing and lead to hearing loss. Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) can be caused by a sudden very loud noise or as a result of repeated exposure to loud noises for a longer period.

For professional musicians, exposure to noise as a result of their profession increases the risk of developing hearing loss by almost four times, a German study has found.

Beside the increased risk of hearing loss, the researchers also discovered that this group of people was up to 57% more likely to develop tinnitus – a constant ringing in the ears – due to their job. The researchers call for action to protect musicians’ hearing and health.

Musicians versus non-musicians

A research team led by Dr. Wolfgang Ahrens used the health-insurance records of nearly three million Germans to check for signs of hearing loss across a four-year period from 2004 to 2008. Among the subjects, 2,227 were identified as professional musicians including guitarists in rock bands and classical pianists.

After adjusting for age and other factors that could influence hearing, the research team found that, compared to the general population, professional musicians had a 3.51 times higher risk of NIHL (noise induced hearing loss) and were 57% more likely to contract tinnitus.

While previous research has suggested that musicians’ hearing sensitivity might increase with noise exposure, Dr. Ahrens assesses the potential benefits to be too small compared to the risk: “Our data suggests that in professional musicians, the risk of music-induced hearing loss by far outweighs the potential benefits for hearing ability”.

Protect hearing

Based on the present study, the researchers call for the increased use of hearing protection, regardless of whether the professional musicians are playing in rock bands or orchestras. Furthermore the research team recommends sound-protecting shields between the sections of an orchestra to protect the musicians from the sound they produce. 

The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Bremen and published in the journal ‘Occupational and Environmental Medicine’.

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