*Guest blog for Musician’s Help Desk by Bevin Luna – Fort Collins Musician*

Dear Musician’s Help Desk,

I like to play music, REALLY LOUD MUSIC. But I like listening to music, too, and don’t want to lose my hearing at age 30. How do I rock out without ruining my hearing?

Concert audience rocking out

Dear concerned musician,

Your concerns are valid!  I am a musician as well and I want to hear every intricate detail while playing music and listening to music.  If you’re like me, you probably get annoyed at the thought of wearing hearing protection because YOU CAN’T HEAR ANYTHING!!!  However, the brutal truth of the matter is that musicians and others involved with the music industry are at a high risk of developing hearing loss or tinnitus.  According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, for businesses in the United States, hearing loss disability for workers’ compensation claims cost an estimated $242 MILLION dollars annually.  I know, WOW, that’s an insane amount of people with noise-induced hearing loss!!!

If you want to continue playing music and listening to music for many years to come, my recommendations for you include the following:

  • Schedule an audiogram to establish a baseline for your ability to hear and continue to have your hearing evaluated annually by an experienced audiologist.
  • Familiarize yourself with the decibel levels on the A-weighting scale (dBA) that are damaging to your hearing. For professional musicians and anyone in an occupational setting, the occupational noise permissible exposure limit (PEL) is 90 dBA over an 8-hour shift.  However, as a best practice, NIOSH recommends that you keep your 8-hour exposure to less than 85 dbA.  This is also referred to as a Time Weighted Average (TWA).  These are the levels at which efforts should be made to reduce noise levels or require hearing protection.  Noise is on a logarithmic scale, so for every 5-decibel increase in noise levels, the allowable exposure duration is cut in half.  Noise is tricky like that.  For example, noise levels at 90 dBA allow for 8 hours of exposure and noise levels of 95 dBA allow for 4 hours of exposure.  This indicates that even a few decibels added to an 8-hour exposure of 90 dBA can result in a significant increase in hearing loss risk.
  • Download the NIOSH Sound Level Meter App on your phone, so you can determine the noise levels during your rehearsals and shows. With this information, you can limit your exposure time depending on the noise measurements.  Refer to OSHA’s Occupational Noise Standard 29 CFR 1910.95 or NIOSH’s Workplace Solutions document for more information regarding reducing the risk of hearing disorders in musicians.
  • Wear hearing protection!!!! There are many options that range from inexpensive ear plugs, to ear muffs, to custom molded hearing protection.  Select hearing protection that suits you and then wear it.  You’ll still be able to hear your music, just at a lower volume. Protect your precious hearing!!!
  • Rehearse at lower noise levels to limit your exposure to elevated noise levels.
  • Take frequent breaks in quiet areas to give your ears a rest.
  • Rehearse in larger rooms with absorbent materials to reduce noise levels when possible.
  • Increase the space between musicians during rehearsals.
  • Educate yourself and those around you on music-induced hearing loss.

References:

NIOSH Guidance Document

 

NIOSH Reducing The Risk of Hearing Loss Among Musicians

 

NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation Elementary and High School Music Classes and Marching Band Rehearsal – Alabama

 

OSHA Occupational Noise

 

OSHA News Release Hear and Now Noise Safety Challenge