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How to Protect Your Ears if You’re a Musician or Music Lover

You bought the tickets months ago and the night is finally here — you’re seeing your favorite band play live. As the musicians take the stage and the crowd roars, you want to lose yourself in the music. But you realize you have to shout to say something to the person next to you, and you might wonder whether the loud concert could be taking a toll on your hearing.

Whether you’re watching a live performance, practicing or performing in a band or listening to music on headphones, there are times when the volume could be loud enough to damage your hearing. 

Musicians and music lovers have a higher risk of hearing problems because they are often exposed to loud music. Many musicians experience tinnitus, a ringing or buzzing sound in the ears, as well as noise-induced hearing loss

“Prolonged exposure to loud music can cause permanent (sensorineural) hearing loss,” said Nicholas Dewyer, MD, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist with Banner – University Medicine. 

Read on to learn more about how to enjoy music and appreciate every note without losing your ability to hear properly in the future. 

Why hearing protection matters 

Enjoying and appreciating music is a gift and you need your maximum hearing ability to get the most out of music. Music contains a range of tones and frequencies and the better you can hear, the more you can appreciate its nuances. 

When your ears are exposed to loud music, they can get damaged. And that hearing loss doesn’t just make it harder to enjoy music or to perform. It can make it harder to communicate with other people, enjoy activities and stay independent. It can lead to social isolation and other mental health problems.

“If you are playing music or going to concerts where you are exposed to loud music, you should wear hearing protection. There are many options available for purchase that reduce the volume of the music without degrading the quality of what you hear,” Dr. Dewyer said. 

Understanding the risk 

The louder the sound, the more it can damage your hearing. A very loud sound, like a gunshot, can damage your hearing in a short period of time. Sounds that aren’t as loud but last longer can also be bad for your ears. That’s why it’s important to wear hearing protection when you’re listening to loud music. 

Decibels (dB) are the way sound intensity is measured. Louder sounds are at higher decibels. A small increase in decibels translates to a large increase in volume. For example, an 80 dB sound is ten times more intense than a 70 dB sound. And a 90 dB sound is 100 times more intense than that 70 dB sound.  

Here are some common decibel levels for sounds:

  • Whisper: 30dB 
  • Typical conversation: 60 dB 
  • Rock concert: 120 dB
  • Peak rock music: 150 dB

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends these time limits per decibel level:

  • 82 dB: 16 hours
  • 85 dB: 8 hours
  • 88 dB: 4 hours
  • 91 dB: 2 hours
  • 94 dB: 1 hour
  • 97 dB: 30 minutes
  • 100 dB: 15 minutes

Be aware of the risk — monitors, apps and wearable fitness devices can measure noise levels and alert you if they are too high.

How to protect your hearing if you’re a musician

As a musician, you’ll likely be exposed to loud noises during practices and performances. It’s important to protect your hearing so you can play your instruments and sing in tune. You need hearing protection that lowers the volume without blocking tones and frequencies. And you want something comfortable to wear. 

Protecting your hearing is one of the best things you can do for your long-term health and well-being. These tips can help you enjoy music for many years to come:

  • Use in-ear monitors (IEMs): These small speakers fit in your ear canals and can give you good sound quality. 
  • Turn down the volume: When you are practicing, keep the volume at a comfortable level.
  • Take breaks: Since long exposure to loud noise can harm your hearing, give your ears a chance to rest. 
  • Wear hearing protection if you can’t use IEMs or reduce the volume: Consider custom-made hearing protection, which can be expensive but may also be more comfortable and effective. “Custom-molded ‘musician’s earplugs’ are the gold standard. You’ll need to see a medical provider to get the earmolds made,” said Dr. Dewyer.
  • Talk to a hearing specialist for advice.

How to protect your hearing if you’re a music lover

Whether you’re listening to music at a concert or on your own, protecting your hearing doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on the music experience. You can use hearing protection that gives you excellent sound quality.  

Here are some steps to try:

  • Stand away from the speakers at a concert to reduce the volume.
  • Take breaks. Stepping away from the sound for a few minutes can give your ears a rest. 
  • Wear hearing protection. Earplugs designed for concerts lower the volume but not the sound quality. You can find earplugs made of different materials and in different sizes and shapes to fit different ears. They are relatively inexpensive and easy to carry. 
  • Turn down the volume when you’re listening on your own. 
  • Talk to a hearing specialist for advice.

How to make hearing protection a habit 

If you’re a musician or a music lover, it’s important to protect your hearing anytime you’re exposed to loud noises. 

  • Keep your earplugs in your pocket, purse or car so you always have them if you need them. 
  • Be careful with volume settings on earbuds. “If there is a lot of background noise, like on an airplane, subway or city streets, you might have to turn your music volume way up to hear it. That can be dangerous,” Dr. Dewyer said. You can limit your volume to a safe setting or choose noise-reducing headphones to block out the background noise. 
  • Protect your hearing from other exposure to loud sounds, like lawnmowers and power tools. 
  • Remember to take breaks from loud sounds. 

The bottom line

If you’re a musician or music lover, protecting your hearing is important. Otherwise, you could cause permanent damage and won’t be able to enjoy music later in life. Monitor your decibel levels and use hearing protection when you can’t avoid loud sounds. Taking breaks to give your ears a chance to rest is helpful, too.

For advice on choosing the hearing protection that’s best for your ears, talk to your doctor or a provider at Banner Health

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