Hearing Health Blog

Musician protecting his hearing from hearing loss.

When your favorite song comes on the radio, do you find yourself turning the volume up? You aren’t on your own. There’s something visceral about pumping up the jam. And it’s fun. But, here’s the situation: there can also be significant harm done.

The relationship between hearing loss and music is closer than we once understood. That has a lot to do with volume (this is in regards to how many times each day you listen and how excessive the volume is). And it’s one of the reasons that many of today’s musicians are changing their tune to protect their hearing.

Hearing Loss And Musicians

It’s a rather well-known irony that, later in life, classical composer Ludwig van Beethoven was hard of hearing. He could only hear his compositions internally. There’s even one narrative about how the composer was conducting one of his symphonies and had to be turned around at the end of the performance because he was unable to hear the thundering applause of the audience.

Beethoven might be the first and most well-known example of the deaf musician, but he definitely isn’t the last. Indeed, a far more recent generation of rock musicians, all known for turning their speakers (and performances) up to 11–have begun to go public with their personal hearing loss experiences.

From Eric Clapton to Neil Diamond to will.i.am, the stories all sound remarkably similar. Musicians spend a huge amount of time dealing with crowd noise and loud speakers. The trauma which the ears experience every day eventually brings about noticeable harm: tinnitus and hearing loss.

Not a Musician? Still an Issue

You may think that because you’re not personally a rock star or a musician, this may not apply to you. You don’t have millions of cheering fans screaming at you (usually). And you’re not standing in front of a wall of amplifiers.

But you do have a couple of earbuds and your chosen playlist. And that can be a serious problem. It’s become easy for each one of us to experience music like rock stars do, at way too high a volume.

The ease with which you can subject yourself to damaging and continuous sounds make this once cliche complaint into a substantial cause for alarm.

So When You’re Listening to Music, How Can You Safeguard Your Ears?

So, first we need to admit there’s a problem (that’s kind of always the first step, but it’s especially true in this case). Raising awareness will help some people (especially younger, more naive people) become aware that they’re putting their hearing in jeopardy. But you also should take some other steps too:

  • Download a volume-monitoring app: You are probably unaware of the actual volume of a rock concert. Wherever you are, the volume of your environment can be assessed with one of many free apps that can be downloaded to your smartphone. As a result, when dangerous levels are reached you will be aware of it.
  • Keep your volume in check: If you go above a safe listening level, your smartphone might alert you. You should adhere to these safety measures if you care about your long-term hearing.
  • Wear ear protection: When you go to a rock concert (or any kind of musical event or show), use hearing protection. They won’t really lessen your experience. But they will safeguard your ears from the worst of the damage. (By the way, wearing ear protection is what most of your favorite musicians are currently doing to protect their hearing, so even the cool kids are doing it).

Limit Exposure

It’s fairly simple math: you will have more serious hearing loss in the future the more you put your hearing at risk. Eric Clapton, for example, has completely lost his hearing. If he knew, he probably would have started protecting his hearing sooner.

The best way to limit your damage, then, is to lessen your exposure. For musicians (and for individuals who happen to work around live music), that can be difficult. Part of the strategy is hearing protection.

But all of us would be a little better off if we just turned the volume down to practical levels.

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