In April 2015 we ran a survey to find about more about about Musician's hearing.
The aim of the survey was to explore:
- Musicians’ experiences of hearing problems
- What help they sought and how effective it was
- What their use, knowledge of and attitude to different types of hearing protection is
- What services they would find helpful
692 professional musicians of all genres and types, singers and instrumentalists took the time to share their experience with us. Follow this link for a snapshot of our 2015 survey, with full findings below.
The results confirmed that musicians are at increased risk of hearing damage. A sizeable proportion of the sample (41%) reported having experienced a hearing loss. A further 19% were unsure, suggesting they might be experiencing symptoms but not yet been formally diagnosed. As might be expected, reports of hearing loss increased with age, but this association was not significant. The majority (58%) of these people attributed their hearing loss to their musical career, with significantly more orchestral, instrumental and band musicians believing this to be the case than singers or teachers. When asked about hearing problems generally, a third (36%) said they have hearing loss (either in one ear or both) and another third (32%) reported tinnitus, a ringing in the ears. Other issues included hyperacusis (excessive sensitivity to sound) diplacusis (confusion in hearing pitch). However, many of these symptoms are also found in the presence of a hearing loss too.
When asked whether they had sought help for their hearing loss, half (50%) said they had and half had not. Most had gone to their GP or seen either a private or NHS audiologist, most likely via a referral. While musicians reported these practitioners to be less effective than tailored support services, there were too few data to be sure. A greater number of older musicians than younger ones, and more Singers, Pianists, String players than Brass or Winds reported seeking help, although these associations did not quite reach statistical significance. There were strong, statistically significant, associations for those in the sample with hearing loss. Those with a hearing loss were more likely to have sought help, to have had a recent hearing test, to be older and to attribute their loss to work as a musician. These associations are arguably intuitive, but represent a sizeable proportion of the sample.
ANXIETY about LOUD NOISE
Exactly half of the sample (50%) said they were worried about noise levels at work and half were not. Musicians with a hearing loss were more likely to report being worried than those without a loss, as were Orchestral musicians, and Brass, Percussion and String players. Musicians with hearing loss were statistically more likely to be worried about noise at work. There was no significant association between anxiety and seeking help or having a test, suggesting that a hearing test alone does not result in worry about noise, unless it diagnoses a hearing loss in the musician. More Brass players than any other instrument group reporting being worried about noise at work, and yet, fewer Brass players reported seeking help than all other instrument groups. This contradiction is hard to explain with these data alone; no significant association was found between seeking help and instrument.
USE OF HEARING PROTECTION
Two-thirds of the sample (67%) said they had used hearing protection. Orchestral and Band musicians were more likely to reporting using protection than Singers or Teachers, as were Percussion and Brass players strongly suggesting that the relative loudness of the ensemble or instrument itself prompts the use of protection. Supporting this, musicians reported using protection the most when playing in a loud gig or concert, when attending a loud gig or concert or when the level was perceived to be unsafe. In addition, the presence of tinnitus, prolonged proximity to brass, percussion or piccolo, and industry advice were all reported to influence the uptake of protection.
Musicians with existing hearing loss were more likely to wear protection as were those who reported being worried about noise at work. These findings support the idea that the personal experience of noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) does indeed increase worry about noise exposure and, in turn, the use of hearing protection. In sum, the experience of NIHL itself appears to be a strong predictor of hearing protection uptake. Decisions to use protection in ‘real time’ are most strongly influenced by loud noise at a level considered to be ‘unsafe’. However, this begs the question ‘How should musicians judge when a sound is too loud?’.
It’s clear that there is no one simple solution – you can find our guide to the pros and cons of different forms of hearing protection.
The sample of 693 musicians were mostly between the age of 25-34 years old, with decreasing numbers of older musicians responding. Over 75% of the sample had been practising for more than 5 years, with some reporting over 30 years. Most were orchestral or instrumental musicians, but there were also a good number of singers / singer-songwriters, teachers, band or ‘session’ musicians and some composers. Most played orchestral instruments, the piano, or were singers. Finally, the vast majority were based in the SE of England, including London.