“We set out to examine the hearing of a large group of musicians, more than a thousand, and then compare the data collected to ISO 7029:2000 hearing standards for 250 Hz to 8 kHz,” said Santucci. “The study sought to determine the incidence of hearing loss in the former group and give analysis to the associated risk factors involved.”
In total, 1,018 musicians were initially included within the test group. After receiving an ear exam, hearing test, and answering a lifestyle/case history survey, members of this group with conductive hearing loss, a history of the use of certain medications known to be harmful to the ear, acoustic neuroma, or significant exposure to noise other than music were eliminated, leaving 887 subjects.
Key findings of the study included:
• When compared to the ISO hearing standards, the musicians' thresholds were consistently worse for all frequencies except 8,000 Hz. The largest difference between musicians' hearing thresholds and norms were at 2,000, 3,000, 4,000, and 6,000 Hz.
• 39.0% of musicians had at least one frequency over 1,500 Hz with hearing thresholds 15 dB apart or more. 60% reported occasional tinnitus.
• 77.1% had at least one sign of hearing damage and either minimal hearing loss, a noise notch, asymmetry in hearing thresholds between ears, and/or tinnitus. Interestingly, those who reported tinnitus were not any more likely to have hearing loss.
• Noise notches—hearing loss at one octave above and below any frequency above 1,500 Hz—were found in all age groups but became more pronounced with age.
Some of the factors having the most profound impact on hearing were age, years of experience, hours of exposure, and the use of some type of hearing protection.
Factors appearing not to have as much influence on hearing included the type of music exposed to (i.e., rock, jazz, or classical), hours since exposure, family history, diabetes, and the use of tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, or aspirin.
"The results of this study were consistent with others done in 1995 and 2003," Sensaphonics' Michael Santucci notes. "Our research also definitively showed that those in the study group who reported using hearing protection experienced a positive effect, especially in higher frequency ranges. This too is consistent with what we've now known for years: If you are a musician or anyone else at higher risk of hearing loss, there is no better way to preserve your hearing than to take necessary safeguarding precautions and getting tested regularly."
This study was funded as part of the Shure Listen Safe program, the company’s corporate cause that supports hearing conservation. In addition to this study, Shure Listen Safe promotes hearing conservation by providing free hearing screenings and distributing hearing protection devices at professional audio industry trade shows, music conferences and festivals, and to Shure’s employees.