The subject of hearing conservation in the Music Industry, Education and even the amateur music making sector sometimes is not given the attention it deserves. As we may well know, exposure to loud music for long periods of time is a serious concern and a hazard not to be taken lightly.
Imagine having a ringing or whistling in your head..... all the time? Chronic Tinnitus Imagine not being able to hear music properly or conversations with friends? Noise Induced Hearing Loss.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) states there's more than 1.1 billion young people at risk from hearing loss, with 40% of these exposed to damaging levels of sound from entertainment venues. Musicians are 3.5 times more likely to suffer from hearing loss and 1.5 times more likely to develop Tinnitus than the general population.
George Odam, former Emeritus Professor at Bath Spa University and Fellow of the Guildhall School has been a champion of this subject for a while. He undertook a research project inquiring into the health of music students. After a one-year pilot study, worrying statistics were found showing that 26% of students had tinnitus and 17% had hearing loss. The seriousness of these statistics needs professional medical investigation. The outcome of too much loud music over time will destroy your hearing, which for anyone who loves music recreationally and especially those who make music is a disaster!
Research from charity Help Musicians’ UK shows that Musicians & DJs are 3.5 times more likely to suffer from music-induced hearing loss and almost 1.5 times more likely to develop tinnitus than the general population.
I instigated a survey to mark World Hearing Day (3rd March) for parents to comment on the hearing conservation habits of their children. 54% parents said that their child has attended a loud music event either independently or with an accompanying adult. At these events, 88% of parents were not aware of hearing protection offered to their child. 70% of parents said they are worried about the exposure their child has to high levels of sound. 25% of parents say that their child has experienced temporary deafness or ringing in their ears as a direct result of listening to loud music. 41% of respondents say that their child has never been educated on the importance of hearing protection.
I think this is scary especially when recreational and social listening is a major part of youth popular culture. This subject should be in the national curriculum, I think. What everyone should be aware of is two crucial impact factors. The sound level and your exposure time. Sound is measured in decibels (dB) and it's important to realise that it is a logarithmic measurement of sound pressure. So, a 3dB increase in sound level is twice as loud. If the volume is twice as loud then you should half your exposure time. Here's an example: An acoustic drumkit not even being played hard can be approximately 94dB (A) Leq (average). Your safe exposure time at this volume is approximately 1 hour. So, if you increase the sound level by 3dB to 97dB (A) then your safe exposure is now approximately 30 minutes. My hearing is permanently damaged from listening to and playing loud music with no protection and I now live with Music Induced Hearing Loss and Tinnitus all the time. It’s sad to talk to young musicians at festivals and gigs who say they already have problems with their hearing in their mid-20's! We've taken sound level readings at venues and sometimes the volume on stage alone is 100dB(A) +. Your safe exposure time here is approximately 15 minutes!
Wearing earplugs in social or professional music environments has to some extent been uncool. However, recently the next generation of music lovers and makers do seem to be more aware of the dangers of being exposed to loud music. This from important work by the WHO, Help Musicians UK, the British Tinnitus Association and dedicated international hearing protection manufactures like ACS.
There are many different earplugs on the market and you should buy the best that you can afford. Don't forget this is your hearing you are trying to protect and if you love music is one of your most important assets! What you need is attenuating or filter type hearing protection – that is earplugs that turn the music down for your ears so you can increase your loud music exposure time. You don’t necessarily need much attenuation. Let’s go back to the 100dB example. Remember how long you have? Yes, 15 minutes. So even with 15 dB reduction from a filter-type earplug you have now increased your safe exposure time to 8-hours. Simple! I call these attenuating earplugs ‘ambient hearing protection’. You can still hear and feel the music and they won’t spoil your enjoyment of the sound – music without the muffle, which you can get with other types of earplugs. The ACS Pacato16 has the best frequency response to any other universal fit music earplug in its class. Universal fit earplugs are great as an off-the-shelf, cost effective solution but if you are serious about sound then custom fit earplugs are the way to go. The benefit is that they fit your ears perfectly, forming a seal that will not allow any excess sound through. Don't forget that everybody's ears are different shapes and sizes so universal fit earplugs won’t always guarantee a proper fit, a specific level of protection and frequency response. Custom moulded earplugs give you the best acoustic seal in the ear canal and you also have a choice of attenuating filters to turn the volume down by different amounts depending on your musical environment.
It is now evident that the culture of hearing conservation in the music industry is on the move especially due to the fantastic work of charities like Help Musicians’ UK. However, we still see that this very important subject area is not mandatory embedded into the further or higher music education curriculum or even in main-stream education in schools for that matter. Terrible, I think.
But the times they are a-changin’ thankfully – but I think we must all challenge those working in education and the music industry to raise awareness of the effects of exposure to loud music, so that music lovers and musicians of the future can be easily protected in these environments and play safe now so they are still able to hear tomorrow.