Music, Musicians and Hearing Loss
Whether you’re a musician or just a music lover, playing your music too loud on a regular basis can cause hearing related problems. For example, if you’re one of those people who like to drive around in a “boom box car” with the music up full blast you should consider turning the music down quite a bit. Those “boom box cars” can generate up to 130 decibels of sound, which is very near if not over the human hearing pain threshold. A typical value for this threshold of pain is 120 decibels. To put things into perspective, a soft whisper is about 30 decibels while a train is around 100 decibels. The average rock concert is around 120 decibels, which is right at the pain threshold. On a personal note, I wear earplugs to every concert I attend as a precaution, since prolonged exposure to sound pressure levels in excess of the threshold of pain can cause physical damage, potentially leading to impairment. It’s important to keep in mind that hearing-induced loss is permanent.
Hearing impairment is measured by the amount of level of loss in what are called decibels (dB) hearing level (HL). Decibels are like degrees of a thermometer. As temperature increases, so do the number of degrees. As the volume of sound increases, so do the number of decibels. A normal conversation will usually range between 45 and 55 dB. A baby crying falls around 60 dB and busy downtown traffic can be almost painful at 90 dB. If you can hear sounds between 0 and 25 dB most of the time, your hearing is pretty normal and you most likely don’t need an aid, although it could enhance your abilities in some situations. If you only hear sounds above 25 dB HL, your loss may be mild, moderate, or severe. These terms will be discussed in more detail in the next paragraph.
Hearing loss can be basically categorized in four ways: mild, moderate,severe, and deaf. Mild loss is considered to be a loss up to 40 decibels, which will usually lead to trouble in hearing ordinary conversation. Moderate hearing loss is a loss of between 40 and 60 decibels. This usually means that voices must be raised for the impaired person to hear them. Severe loss, which is loss over 60 decibels, would require that people shout for the impaired person to hear them. According to the World Health Organization, the term “deaf” should only be applied to individuals with impairment so severe that they cannot benefit from sound amplification or hearing aid assistance.
Even the slightest loss of hearing can make life difficult. Although conversation is audible at low frequencies which usually means the deeper voices, it’s much more difficult with higher pitched voices. This is because with typical loss, the ability to hear high sounds is the first to go, which means it will be harder to hear birds or women’s voices. As the problem worsens, the loss of the lower tone reception soon follows.
A major problem with hearing loss is that 90% of the time the loss is so subtle and gradual that people don’t always notice it until it’s too late and some loss has occurred. Additionally, musicians most likely suffer from not just hearing loss but also have ringing in their ears and pitch-perception problems, which might cause them to inadvertently play a C sharp note instead of a straight C. Some musicians, especially those who start out young such as violinists, start losing their hearing as early as the age of 10.
Many musicians now use ear monitors to keep down the levels of sound they absorb on the stage while performing, he said. These monitors look like little hearing aids with wires attached to them and they enable each musician to precisely control how loud it is in their ear. Oddly enough, it has been found the musicians who play classical music have a greater significance of hearing loss than do rock musicians. This is based on the fact classical musicians have a tendency to play more concerts, teach several hours a day, and then practice several hours a day so in most cases they put in more hours than do rock musicians.
Music lovers should moderate in the length of time and level of loud music to which they expose their ears.