Hearing Protection for Musicians – What Are the Options?

Hearing is important for many reasons – communicating with loved ones, alerting us to danger, etc. – but for musicians, it is their livelihood. Yet this population is at increased risk of hearing loss due to regular noise exposure. Below we review the importance of hearing protection and what musicians should look for in earplugs.

How We Hear

Musician playing a guitar.

Within the inner ear are tiny hair cells called stereocilia. These cells convert sound waves into electrical energy that travels to the brain via the auditory nerve to be interpreted as sound, and each cell is responsible for a particular frequency.

How Noise Causes Damage

When dangerously loud sounds pass through the ears, it can damage or destroy these hair cells. As a result, you’ll lose the ability to lose certain frequencies. Usually, high frequencies are the first to go, making it hard to hear certain instruments, voices or notes.

Any sound over 85 decibels (dB) can cause damage over time, but louder noises cause damage more quickly.

The CDC put together this interactive web page that shows common sounds and their decibel outputs:

  • Whispering: 30 dB.
  • Refrigerator: 40 dB.
  • Dishwasher: 45-65 dB.
  • Conversation: 65-80 dB.
  • Lawnmower: 80-100 dB.
  • Movie theater: 70-104 dB.
  • Motorcycle: 80-110 dB.
  • Sports event: 94-110 dB.
  • Headphones: 96-110 dB.
  • Rock concert: 95-115 dB.
  • Sirens: 110-129 dB.
  • Fireworks: 140-160 dB.

The decibel output of a live concert can cause permanent damage in as little as 15 minutes. Protective earplugs are essential to prevent hearing loss when attending or performing in a concert.

What to Look for in Musician’s Earplugs

While all you need to provide protection for your ears is a pair of disposable earplugs from the drugstore, this is not usually a preferable option for musicians, as they can distort sound quality. When it comes for musician’s earplugs, be sure to look for:

  • Lower volume. Earplugs that don’t lower the volume don’t provide protection. Sounds should not be painful or uncomfortable when wearing earplugs.
  • Good sound quality. Cheap disposable earplugs lower the volume, but sacrifice sound quality. Earplugs designed specifically for musicians retain the same sound quality as if you aren’t wearing anything in your ears.
  • Earplugs that are uncomfortable won’t be worn, which is why it’s essential to get a pair that fit well.

Custom musicians’ earplugs from Topeka ENT provide optimal hearing protection while preserving sound quality and fitting comfortably. Before your next show at Topeka Performing Arts Center, be sure to schedule an appointment to get fit for your own pair of custom earplugs. Call us today.

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