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Hearing loss and tinnitus common in musicians

But years of rock concerts can harm anyone's hearing

Published: May 02, 2014 06:00 AM

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A good part of my youth in the 1970s and 1980s was spent at rock concerts as close to the front as I could get, with huge stacked amplifiers curling my hair and, yes, deafening my ears. I know that several of my favorite musicians—Pete Townsend, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, and Keith Richards, to name a few—have experienced hearing loss as they got older.

But I wondered if the problem really was more common among musicians. A German study out this week provides some of the best evidence that the answer is yes. And it also made me worry about my hearing, and those of other people my age.

The study, in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, analyzed the health insurance records of more than 3 million adults. Of that group, less than 1 percent (2,227) were professional musicians. But they were four times as likely to have noise-induced hearing loss compared with nonmusicians, and 57 percent more likely to suffer from tinnitus, or continuous ringing in the ears.

Today's digital hearing aids and other listening devices can dramatically improve your ability to hear. Find out more in our hearing aid buying guide.

The findings made me think that, like me, the lifestyle and occupation of many baby boomers may have affected our hearing more than we will admit. Our recent report on hearing loss found that the problem is common and growing. Take our quiz to see how your hearing really stacks up.

This week's study also highlights the need for some precautionary measures:

1. Turn it down: Discipline yourself to play music at a lower volume. Keep your MP3 player well below maximum volume and limit listening time to 90 minutes per day. Use your MP3 player's volume limiter if it has one.

2. Schedule quiet times: Hearing loss is cumulative, so make sure to offset noisy periods with quieter ones.

3. Use hearing protection: Foam earplugs can reduce your noise exposure by about 20 decibels, but only if you insert them properly. Here's how: Roll the earplug gently between your fingers to make it long and thin, then reach over your head to lift your ear with one hand while inserting the earplug with the other. Hold each earplug in place until it expands. Or you can use over-the-ear earmuffs, which are easier to put on and take off but can be hotter and bulkier.

4. Use the right headphones: Our recent tests have shown that noise-canceling over-the-ear headphones and insert-type rubber-tipped earbuds, properly sized to fit your ear canals, can be good at blocking background noises that lead to higher listening volumes. Just avoid using them in places where you need to stay alert, such as city streets and airports.

—Chris Hendel

Editor's Note: Chris Hendel has been Consumer Reports' chief medical researcher since 1989 and is one of the founders of Consumer Reports on Health, our monthly health newsletter.
   

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