What is tinnitus and how can musicians avoid it?
Musicians are one of the most at-risk groups when it comes to developing tinnitus and hearing loss. Prolonged exposure to loud noises can lead to serious damage in the ears, and most musicians are surrounded by loud music regularly when performing. Many do not consider just how loud their instruments and concerts are since they are exposed to this level of noise on such a regular basis, but unless they take steps to protect their ears they could be at risk of serious hearing problems.
What are the symptoms of tinnitus?
Most people think of tinnitus as a high-pitched ringing sound in the ear, and it certainly does present like this for many people. However, everyone experiences tinnitus differently and might hear a range of sounds, including ringing, humming, buzzing, throbbing, whooshing, roaring and hissing.
The intensity, pitch and volume of these sounds can vary constantly. The sounds might come and go, or they may diminish enough to be easily ignored at some points while rising in volume at other moments. Many people find it difficult to concentrate or to sleep when their tinnitus symptoms become very intense.
What causes tinnitus?
Sometimes tinnitus is a side effect of a problem with blood vessels in or surrounding the ears or sinuses. However, the form of tinnitus that is most common amongst musicians tends to be caused by sensorineural hearing loss. This occurs when the inner ear begins to degrade as a result of persistent loud noise exposure.
Musicians are exposed to loud noise more often than most people. Not only does exposure occur during performances, but also during rehearsals and practice sessions, when composing or recording, or simply from listening to music on a regular basis. All types of musicians - from drummers in rock bands to violinists in orchestras - are at an increased risk of hearing damage and tinnitus.
Exposure to loud music means that musicians are one of the most at-risk groups when it comes to tinnitus.
What can musicians do if they already have tinnitus?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for tinnitus. However, musicians who already have tinnitus can follow the prevention advice outlined below to avoid worsening their hearing loss or tinnitus symptoms.
Those who find tinnitus particularly difficult to live with should consult their doctor for treatment advice. Nothing will completely eradicate the condition but there are some options for managing symptoms. For example, if tinnitus is accompanied by noticeable hearing loss, a hearing aid might help to reduce the severity of tinnitus symptoms.
Some people benefit from tinnitus therapy, which involves training the brain to ignore tinnitus noise. This can be particularly helpful for those who frequently find themselves distracted or distressed by their tinnitus.
How can musicians avoid developing tinnitus?
It is often impossible for musicians to completely avoid exposure to loud noise, but they can take steps to protect their hearing and minimise their risk of developing tinnitus.
First, they should wear ear protection as often as possible when performing or practising. There are lots of different varieties of earplugs available which reduce volume without completely cutting out noise, making it possible to still hear music while minimising ear damage.
Secondly, musicians should try to take breaks from noise after particularly loud days. For example, the day after playing a very loud concert they should avoid practising or listening to music at high volumes if possible. This gives the ears a chance to recover in between noise exposure.
Finally, musicians can try and keep the volume down as much as possible when listening to music or watching television, particularly if using headphones. In some instances, it isn't possible to control volume, such as when performing or rehearsing, but the more often you can get away with turning down the volume, the more you can protect your ears.