Musicians at serious risk of Tinnitus, researchers show

People working in the music industry are nearly twice as likely to develop Tinnitus as people working in quieter occupations, according to a new study led by researchers at The University of Manchester

The study, published in Trends in Hearing, analysed 23,000 people from the UK Biobank, an online database of medical and lifestyle records of half a million Britons.

The researchers compared levels of hearing difficulties and tinnitus in people working in noisy ‘high-risk’ construction, agricultural and music industries compared to people working in finance, a quiet ‘low-risk’ industry.

Tinnitus is a potentially devastating condition in which people hear ringing, buzzing or whistling noises in the absence of any external sounds.

The list of high-profile musicians who reportedly suffer from Tinnitus continues to grow, including Liam and Noel Gallagher, Chris Martin, Ozzy Osbourne and Bob Dylan.

However, classical music players are at risk too: earlier this year, the Royal Opera House lost its appeal over the life-changing hearing damage caused to a viola player at a single rehearsal of Wagner's Die Walkure.

Dr Sam Couth, who is based at the University’s Centre for Audiology and Deafness, said: “Our research shows that people working in the music industry are at considerable risk of developing tinnitus, and this risk is largely due to exposure to loud noise.

“This includes performing musicians, music directors and production staff for all genres of music.

“Musicians are advised to wear hearing protection when noise levels exceed 85 decibels, which is roughly equivalent to the noise produced by a passing diesel truck.”

Experts say the length of safe noise exposure is reduced by half for every 3 decibels increase in noise intensity.

That equates to 4 hours of daily exposure for 88 decibels of noise, 2 hours for 91 decibels, and so on.

“Most amplified concerts exceed 100 decibels, meaning that musicians shouldn’t be exposed to that level of noise for more than 15 minutes without proper hearing protection,” added Dr Couth.

“Changes to legislation have increased hearing protection use and reduced levels of hearing problems in the construction industry, but the music industry lags behind.

“We know from previous research that only 6% of musicians consistently wear hearing protection.

“Part of our work is to try to understand why so few musicians use hearing protection, and to devise different ways to encourage them to change their behaviour.

“Musicians should wear earplugs designed specifically for listening to music so that the quality of the sound remains high, whilst the risk of hearing damage is reduced.”

Our research shows that people working in the music industry are at considerable risk of developing tinnitus, and this risk is largely due to exposure to loud noise
Dr Sam Couth

The research team found that health and lifestyle factors had relatively little impact on Tinnitus and hearing difficulties. Noise exposure was by far the biggest risk.

The findings confirm what industry insiders have long been saying about the impact their workplace has on their hearing.

Joe Hastings, Head of Health and Welfare at Help Musicians  said: “We welcome this research undertaken by Dr Couth’s department which supports our insights into the risks posed to musicians’ hearing arising from prolonged exposure to noise.

“We are currently working in partnership with British Tinnitus Association to investigate the potentially devastating impact of tinnitus in musicians.”

Help Musicians have developed the hugely successful Musicians Hearing Health Scheme which has already provided preventative support to thousands of musicians since 2016.

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