Hearing health is essential to your lifelong success as a musician. Your hearing can be permanently damaged by loud sounds, including music. Technically, this is called Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL). Such danger is constant. Noise-induced hearing loss is generally preventable. You must avoid overexposure to loud sounds, especially for long periods of time. The closer you are to the source of a sound, the greater the risk of damage to your hearing. Sounds over 85dB (your typical vacuum cleaner) in intensity pose the greatest risk to your hearing. Risk of hearing loss is based on a combination of sound loudness and duration.
Recommended maximum daily exposure times (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health - NIOSH) to sounds at or above 85 dB are as follows:
- 85 dB (vacuum cleaner, mp3 player at 1/3 column) - 8 hours
- 90 dB (blender, hair dryer) - 2 hours
- 94 dB (mp3 player at 1/2 volume) - 1 hour
- 100 dB (mp3 player at full volume, lawnmower) - 15 minutes
- 110 dB (rock concert, power tools) - 2 minutes
- 120 dB (jet planes at take-off) - without ear protection, damage is almost immediate
Certain behaviors (controlling volume levels in practice and rehearsal, avoiding noisy environments, turning down the volume) reduce your risk of hearing loss. Be mindful of those mp3 earbuds.
- When performing in either electric or acoustic ensembles, practice at safe volumes. Additionally, the use of earplugs and earmuffs can help to protect your hearing. Consider purchasing high-quality hearing protection such as custom molded earplugs.
- Day-to-day decisions can impact your hearing health, both now and in the future. Since sound exposure occurs in and out of school, you also need to learn more and take care of your hearing health on a daily, even hourly basis.
- When using headphones in labs or while recording, keep your monitoring levels low. This will protect your hearing and maintain your essential ability to notice detail. If your neighbor can hear the music from your headphones, you are monitoring with too much volume.
- If you are concerned about your personal hearing health, talk with a medical professional.
- If you are concerned about your hearing health in relationship to your program of study, consult the appropriate contact person at your institution.
This information is provided by the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) and the Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA).
Links to Hearing Health Resources:
Classical Musicians at Extreme Risk for Hearing Loss
BBC Musicians’ Guide to Noise and Hearing
OSHA - Occupational Noise Exposure
A Noisy Planet
Animas Valley Audiologists
The High Notes of Musicians Ear Plugs - Reviews
Ear Love - Hearing Protection Device Comparisons and Reviews