Professional musicians are four times nearly more likely to suffer from deafness caused by exposure to loud noise than the general population, a new study has shown.
Whether playing in rock bands or in an orchestra, career musicians are also 57 per cent more likely to develop tinnitus. Deafness, which in its most severe form can cost a musician their livelihood, represents an under-reported problem of “high public health importance”, the study authors said.
The study, published in the medical journal Occupational Health and Environmental Medicine, looked at health insurance data from seven million people in Germany. Although musicians made up just 0.03 per cent of that population, 0.08 per cent of insurance claims for hearing loss came from the group.
Even when the results were adjusted to allow for the effects of ageing on our chances of becoming deaf, musicians were still four times more likely to suffer than the general population.
Hearing loss can be caused by a single very loud noise, but can also develop gradually over time as a result of repeated exposure.
The authors of the study, from the universities of Bremen and Oldenburg and the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology, said that their findings made a strong case for measures to protect musicians’ hearing.
Long-term exposure to industrial noise is a well known cause of deafness but some previous studies have suggested repeated exposure to loud music might actually increase hearing ability and sensitivity – a conclusion the study’s authors challenged.
“Our data suggest that in professional musicians the risks of music induced hearing loss outweigh the potential benefits for hearing ability, as reported by [other researchers],” they write.
“Given the number of professional musicians and the severity of the outcome, leading to occupational disability and severe loss of quality of life, hearing loss in [this group] is of high public health importance.”
The problem of hearing loss is well-known among professional musicians. The Musicians’ Union works with specialists at the Musicians’ Hearing Service, which provides hearing tests, and noise level monitors to musicians.
The study authors recommended that all musicians should be given protective in-ear devices and said that sound shields should be installed between different sections of an orchestra.