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Musicians & Hearing Loss

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Dr. Timothy Teague, AuD
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A great tragedy faces many musicians who have built their lives on sound. Although hearing protection can do a great deal to hang onto ability into the future, for many musicians some damage is already done. Many rock musicians have lost hearing ability due to noise exposure. Not only during concerts but also rehearsals and even recording sessions can expose a person to enough volume to risk hearing ability. 

For musicians, losing the ability to hear can feel like not only a lost ability to express and create, but it can also feel like a loss of identity. Currently, there is no known way to restore the tiny hairlike organelles of the inner ear called stereocilia that make hearing possible. However, hearing protection can help to preserve your hearing going forward. In addition, hearing assistive technology can bring back a musician’s ability to enjoy and experience sound in frequencies that were all but lost. 

 

Musicians’ Hearing Protection

Some musicians act as if hearing loss is just part of the territory, when in fact there is a lot you can do to protect yourself. At the very least, disposable foam earplugs can reduce the overall volume of an environment by 10 to 15 decibels. Many music venues offer these for sale at the bar, and one should not feel shame or stigma associated with wearing these essential tools of the trade. Particularly for musicians who are enjoying another person’s performance, earplugs are a must. 

Beyond these basic protective devices, more advanced forms of protection are available, as well. In consultation with a hearing health professional, you can get customized protective devices that are fitted to the shape of your outer ear. One of the benefits of customized earplugs is the ability to reduce particularly harmful frequencies while keeping hearing close to natural in the range of music. 

Musicians tend to love these earplugs not only because they allow you to hear music uninhibited but also because they make conversation easier. Whether at a rehearsal, recording session, or a concert, it is necessary to converse with others while protecting hearing at the same time. 

 

Musicians’ Hearing Assistance

In addition to protective devices, assistive devices can be particularly helpful for musicians. Once you have lost hearing in a particular frequency range of sound, hearing aids might be the only way to recapture that spectrum of sound. Particularly for those who play instruments that utilize that frequency range, hearing aids are not only a way to hear others in the ensemble but also to hear oneself. 

Violinists and violists are particularly subject to hearing damage from their instruments, due to the positioning of the instrument so close to the ear. After hours of daily practice and years of rehearsing and performing in groups, that exposure to sound can add up to a damaging experience. Once that hearing ability is lost or limited, one might feel self-conscious performing, lacking complete knowledge of the texture and pitch of sound. 

Hearing aids can step in and restore that knowledge, making it possible to perform confidently once again. Not only do you need to hear yourself playing to adjust your technique, but you also need to be able to listen and respond to the others in an ensemble with astute responsiveness. With hearing aids and protection working in tandem, you can experience the satisfaction of music performance both as a player and a listener.  

If you are a musician who has lost some hearing ability over the years of playing, you are not alone. Many household names have lost some hearing ability over the years, and they find it necessary to wear hearing aids to continue their careers. The first step is to get an accurate diagnosis of your hearing ability, particularly taking note of the range of hearing that is currently missing. Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing test!