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Hearing preservation should be part of music education

Jan 15, 2019

Credit freeimages.com/Mike Moloney

Studies suggest musicians are four times more likely than others to experience hearing loss due to their repeated exposure to loud, prolonged rehearsals and performances.

Dr. Greg Horton, an audiologist at Rochester Hearing and Speech Center, understands this from his own experience. He's played drums and bass for various bands over the past twenty years. He remembers attending a Ramones concert when he was 17.

"My ears were ringing for a week afterwards and I felt like I had cotton stuffed in my ears," he said. "I saw other people at the show wearing earplugs and I thought, 'Hey, that's probably a good idea,' but nobody told me that was what I should do."

Horton stresses that education is a key component of hearing preservation. He encourages music educators, those who give lessons, teach in schools, or organize music camps, to incorporate information about it in their curriculum.

For instance, musicians may reject the idea of wearing ear plugs because they don't want to hear a low quality version of what they're playing.  What they may not know is, there are ear plugs specifically designed to filter music while maintaining the fidelity.

"So, for example, my band...we're a pretty loud band," Horton explained. "At practice, I use the strongest filters - meaning they will attenuate, turn down, the most. And then, when I play live, I switch out my filters and I play for a shorter period of time and I like to hear a little bit more of the music but it still keeps me safe."

It's much easier to prevent hearing loss than it is to treat it, and Horton says it's not just musicians who've been playing a long time who should be aware of this.

"Because we're seeing that this generation of young adults is having far more incidents of hearing loss than the previous generations for the same age group," he said, "and it's all about recreational noise exposure, whether it's going to concerts, going to clubs, and definitely from all the excessive earbud use."

He suggests that musicians give their ears a rest once in a while and also recommends a baseline hearing evaluation and annual follow-ups with a licensed audiologist.

"We're an industry that's not regulated," Horton said. "We don't have OSHA coming in saying, 'Oh, you're a drummer in a rock n' roll band? You have to  to wear your hearing protection,' so it's really up to us to do it ourselves."