Which Musicians Are Most at Risk of Hearing Loss?


Multiple studies have confirmed the link between loud music and hearing damage, mostly from attending concerts or playing music through headphones too loudly. However, a 2013 study has examined the link between orchestral musicians and hearing loss. The results are in: French horn players are at the greatest risk for noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

About the Study

Man playing the French Horn

The study took place during the International Horn Society’s 2010 meeting in Brisbane, Australia and was published in the spring 2013 edition of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene. Researchers examined 143 French horn players and found that, for those under the age of 40, there is an 18-33 percent chance of developing noise-induced hearing loss. The study also found that only 18 percent of players wear hearing protection.

“Even within that 18 percent, the use of hearing protection appears to be inadequate with 81 percent of these participants reporting their frequency of use as ‘sometimes’ and 50 percent reporting they use generic, foam or other inferior forms of protection,” explained lead study author Wayne Wilson, senior lecturer of audiology at the University of Queensland.

This also shows that, even when accounting for age-related hearing loss, there is still a significant effect on hearing caused by sound. Authors hope that more orchestra musicians learn from these results and take measures to protect their hearing.

“Our findings also reinforce the need to educate horn players, their mentors and audiologists about the need to protect hearing and how best to achieve this while still enabling musicians to play to the highest level,” said Ian O’Brien, doctoral student researcher at the University of Sydney and professional French horn player. “Even mild hearing loss can result in difficulties discriminating pitch, abnormal loudness growth and tinnitus, all of which can affect a musician’s ability to perform, subsequently jeopardizing his or her livelihood.”

Other NIHL-Causing Instruments

While French horns were the focus of this study, many instruments put your hearing at risk. Here are some common instruments and their decibel outputs:

  • Trombone: 85 to 114 db
  • Flute: 85 to 111 db
  • Cello: 82 to 92 db
  • Clarinet: 92 to 103 db
  • Piano (normal practice): 60 to 70 db
  • Piano (fortissimo): 84 to 103 db
  • Oboe: 90 to 94 db

For reference, any sound over 85 dB can cause damage over time.

For more information or to schedule an appointment for custom musician’s plugs, call San Diego Hearing Center today.

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