Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Findings

musicians-hearing

(Photo: PrinceOfLove/Shutterstock)

New Data Finds High Rate of Hearing Loss Among Musicians

• April 30, 2014 • 3:30 PM

(Photo: PrinceOfLove/Shutterstock)

In Germany, professional musicians are nearly four times as likely as non-musicians to suffer noise-induced hearing loss.

Musicians provide the rest of us with a wonderful gift—but at what cost to themselves? The question of whether years of exposure to the blasts of trumpets or the wails of electric guitars can damage one’s hearing has been studied extensively in recent years, with inconclusive results.

A new large-scale study from Europe suggests the issue is indeed real—and more widespread than previously believed.

An analysis of medical-insurance records of Germans found that, compared to non-musicians, professional musicians were nearly four times more likely to experience some degree of noise-related hearing loss.

“Our data suggest that in professional musicians, the risks of music-induced hearing loss outweigh by far the potential benefits for hearing ability.”

The paper, published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found musicians were also 57 percent more likely to experience tinnitus, that annoying ringing in the ear.

A research team led by Dr. Wolfgang Ahrens of the University of Bremen examined health-insurance records of approximately three million Germans for the years 2004 through 2008. Of that population, 2,227 (or 0.07 percent of the total) were identified as professional musicians.

The researchers found that, compared to the general population, professional musicians “had a 3.51-fold higher incidence rate of noise-induced hearing loss.”

Not surprisingly, both musicians and non-musicians were more likely to experience hearing problems as they grew older. But after adjusting for age and other factors that could influence hearing, the rate remained far higher for musicians.

The results stand in gloomy contrast to a 2011 study that found musicians retain the ability to distinguish speech in noisy conditions far longer than non-musicians. “Our data suggest that in professional musicians, the risks of music-induced hearing loss outweigh by far the potential benefits for hearing ability,” Ahrens and his colleagues write.

This appears to be the largest study ever conducted comparing the risk of hearing loss among musicians with that of the general public. But it does have one clear limitation: The data does not tell us which musicians played acoustic instruments as opposed to electric ones.

Then again, loud noise is loud noise; repeated exposure to such sounds is a proven risk, whether you’re a timpanist or a tree trimmer. With that in mind, the researchers make a series of recommendations.

“Musicians should be offered protection by in-ear devices and installation of sound-protecting shields between the sections of an orchestra,” they write. “Some of these measures, such as in-ear sound protection, should also apply to professional musicians playing in rock bands, or when electric sound amplifiers are used.”

The authors conclude by calling this a public-health issue. Perhaps someday, playing music without ear protection will seem as foolish as driving a car without a seat belt.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

December 18 • 4:00 PM

How I Navigated Life as a Newly Sober Mom

Saying “no” to my kids was harder than saying “no” to alcohol. But for their sake and mine, I had to learn to put myself first sometimes.


December 18 • 2:00 PM

Women in Apocalyptic Fiction Shaving Their Armpits

Because our interest in realism apparently only goes so far.


December 18 • 12:00 PM

The Paradox of Choice, 10 Years Later

Paul Hiebert talks to psychologist Barry Schwartz about how modern trends—social media, FOMO, customer review sites—fit in with arguments he made a decade ago in his highly influential book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.


December 18 • 10:00 AM

What It’s Like to Spend a Few Hours in the Church of Scientology

Wrestling with thetans, attempting to unlock a memory bank, and a personality test seemingly aimed at people with depression. This is Scientology’s “dissemination drill” for potential new members.


December 18 • 8:00 AM

Gendering #BlackLivesMatter: A Feminist Perspective

Black men are stereotyped as violent, while black women are rendered invisible. Here’s why the gendering of black lives matters.


December 18 • 7:06 AM

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.


December 18 • 6:00 AM

The Very Weak and Complicated Links Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence

Vanderbilt University’s Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeish address our anxieties and correct our assumptions.


December 18 • 4:00 AM

Should Movies Be Rated RD for Reckless Driving?

A new study finds a link between watching films featuring reckless driving and engaging in similar behavior years later.


December 17 • 4:00 PM

How to Run a Drug Dealing Network in Prison

People tend not to hear about the prison drug dealing operations that succeed. Substance.com asks a veteran of the game to explain his system.


December 17 • 2:00 PM

Gender Segregation of Toys Is on the Rise

Charting the use of “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” in American English.


December 17 • 12:41 PM

Why the College Football Playoff Is Terrible But Better Than Before

The sample size is still embarrassingly small, but at least there’s less room for the availability cascade.


December 17 • 11:06 AM

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.


December 17 • 10:37 AM

A Public Lynching in Sproul Plaza

When photographs of lynching victims showed up on a hallowed site of democracy in action, a provocation was issued—but to whom, by whom, and why?


December 17 • 8:00 AM

What Was the Job?

This was the year the job broke, the year we accepted a re-interpretation of its fundamental bargain and bought in to the push to get us to all work for ourselves rather than each other.


December 17 • 6:00 AM

White Kids Will Be Kids

Even the “good” kids—bound for college, upwardly mobile—sometimes break the law. The difference? They don’t have much to fear. A professor of race and social movements reflects on her teenage years and faces some uncomfortable realities.



December 16 • 4:00 PM

How Fear of Occupy Wall Street Undermined the Red Cross’ Sandy Relief Effort

Red Cross responders say there was a ban on working with the widely praised Occupy Sandy relief group because it was seen as politically unpalatable.


December 16 • 3:30 PM

Murder! Mayhem! And That’s Just the Cartoons!

New research suggests deaths are common features of animated features aimed at children.


December 16 • 1:43 PM

In Tragedy, Empathy Still Dependent on Proximity

In spite of an increasingly connected world, in the face of adversity, a personal touch is most effective.


December 16 • 12:00 PM

The ‘New York Times’ Is Hooked on Drug du Jour Journalism

For the paper of record, addiction is always about this drug or that drug rather than the real causes.


December 16 • 10:00 AM

What Is the Point of Academic Books?

Ultimately, they’re meant to disseminate knowledge. But their narrow appeal makes them expensive to produce and harder to sell.


December 16 • 8:00 AM

Unjust and Unwell: The Racial Issues That Could Be Affecting Your Health Care

Physicians and medical students have the same problems with implicit bias as the rest of us.


December 16 • 6:00 AM

If You Get Confused Just Listen to the Music Play

Healing the brain with the Grateful Dead.


December 16 • 4:00 AM

Another Casualty of the Great Recession: Trust

Research from Britain finds people who were laid off from their jobs expressed lower levels of generalized trust.


December 15 • 4:00 PM

When Charter Schools Are Non-Profit in Name Only

Some charters pass along nearly all their money to for-profit companies hired to manage the schools. It’s an arrangement that’s raising eyebrows.


Follow us


Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.

The Hidden Psychology of the Home Ref

That old myth of home field bias isn’t a myth at all; it’s a statistical fact.

A Word of Caution to the Holiday Deal-Makers

Repeat customers—with higher return rates and real bargain-hunting prowess—can have negative effects on a company’s net earnings.

Crowdfunding Works for Science

Scientists just need to put forth some effort.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.