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"Hearing Comparison between Musicians & Non-Musicians".

Christian Talley

 

 

Abstract

The aim of this study was to assess the hearing of musicians compared to non-musicians. Eighteen participants were given pure-tone audiometric tests to determine any hearing loss and questionnaires were completed in order to determine the health history of the participant as well as past noise exposure. It was found that approximately half of the musicians had hearing loss over the acceptable level of 25 dB. Additionally it appeared that the type of music one played, directly related to how much hearing loss one had. For example, rock musicians seemed to show more hearing damage than jazz musicians. Also, tinnitus (ear ringing) was a frequently mentioned hearing disorder among all participants. On the basis of the results, it is concluded that a more extensive study needs to be done in order to determine the significance of these preliminary findings.

Purpose

Hearing loss is a non-visible disorder that can adversely affect not only the person who can t hear but their family & friends as well. We don t view hearing loss in the same way that we see a visible handicap. But hearing loss due to noise damage can happen to anyone at any age. The purpose of this research is to attempt to determine if there is a noticeable difference between the hearing quality of musicians and non-musicians. Musicians are often exposed to high decibel levels of sound due to their occupation, but have rarely been studied as at risk of noise induced hearing loss until recent years. After observing people who listen to loud music and who played loud music, I wondered if musicians would have a greater risk of hearing loss due to their occupation of constant noise exposure than the risk of hearing loss would be to the average non-musician. These questions lead to the idea of conducting a study of musicians hearing versus non-musicians hearing.

Hypothesis

The possibility exists that the quality of hearing in musicians is not at the same level as non-musicians, due in part to noise exposure. Upon testing this hypothesis, it is expected to find that non-musicians will show better hearing levels than musicians. One outcome may be that musicians who have been exposed to longer periods of loud noises over the course of their careers will show significant hearing loss.

Background

In order to perform this study it was necessary to complete a course on hearing testing and hearing conservation. The Deep South Center for Occupational Health & Safety at UAB offers a course on how to operate an audiometer and produce an audiogram, taught by Ms. Georgia Holmes, MA, CCC-A, a CAOHC approved course director. Elizabeth H. Maples, PhD, Director of the Deep South Center, graciously allowed me to attend the course despite my age. This course also gave the biological reasons for hearing loss due to noise exposure. After taking the Audiometric Testing & Hearing Conservation Course the next phase is to test a pool of participants in both the musician and non-musician category.

Fifteen musicians and fifteen non-musicians are given participant numbers in order to keep their information confidential. The participants of each category fill out a questionnaire asking about past experiences with noise or health issues which may adversely affect ones hearing. After a consent form is signed by the participants, an otoscopic examination is performed by the certified audiometric technician (Christian Talley) prior to any audiometric or hearing test in order to determine if the participant s ear canal is clean or occluded. If the participant s ear canal is blocked with cerumen (ear wax) or has other blockage this participant cannot have an audiometric test performed due to the fact that it could invalidate the test.

Each participant is tested using a manual Beltone audiometer in a quiet room with little ambient noise as possible. Ambient room noise can also invalidate the hearing test. Each participant is informed on various aspects of the procedure by the audiometric technician. The right ear is tested first unless the participant notes having a better left ear.After the headphones are in place, the participant will hear a series of tones or audio cues. Beginning at 1000 hertz and 30 decibels, decibel levels are tested within a frequency range of 500 to 6000 hertz. If the participant doesnÕt respond to the cue, then the decibel level is raised by 5 dB & he/she is tested at that level and so on. If the participant responds to the cue, then the dB level is dropped by 10 dB. This continues until the participant responds to the cue at the same level dB on a given frequency 3 times, then that level is recorded as their hearing level at that frequency. After testing each ear, the audiogram is mapped out according to hearing levels.

After testing all thirty participants, it will be time to evaluate the findings. All audiograms will be charted and the results tallied in order to determine if hearing loss is greater in musicians who have been exposed to loud, electronically enhanced music in their career. Some of the factors which may affect the outcome of the results are things such as the age of the participant, if the participant has noisy hobbies, how often someone listens to recreational music loudly, and musician s type of musical preference (such as heavy-metal music which has traditionally been performed louder than some other forms of music), in addition to length of time performing as a musician. Another major concern is the possibility that another form of hearing damage may contribute to the outcome of a participant s audiometric test.

Materials & Methods

In order to perform this study I needed to complete a course on hearing testing and hearing conservation. The Deep South Center for Occupational Health & Safety at UAB offers a course on how to operate an audiometer to test the hearing of an individual to produce an audiogram. This course was taught by Ms. Georgia Holmes, MA, CCC-A, a CAOHC approved course director. Elizabeth H. Maples, PhD, Director of the Deep South Center, graciously allowed me to attend the course despite my age. This course also taught the biological reasons for hearing loss due to noise exposure. After becoming a certified Hearing Conservationist it was then possible to test a pool of participants in both the musician and non-musician categories.

Fifteen musicians and fifteen non-musicians agreed to participate in the study and were given participant numbers in order to keep their information confidential. The participants of each category filled out a questionnaire asking about past experiences with noise or health issues which may have adversely affected one s hearing. After the consent form was signed by the participants, an otoscopic examination was performed by the certified audiometric technician (Christian Talley) prior to any audiometric or hearing test in order to determine if the participan s ear canal was clean or occluded. If the participant s ear canal had been blocked with cerumen (ear wax) this participant would not have had an audiometric test performed due to the fact that it could invalidate the test. Only nine musicians and nine non-musicians were allowed to take the hearing test.

Each final participant was tested using a manual Beltone audiometer in a quiet room located on the UAB campus that had as little ambient noise as possible. Ambient room noise can also invalidate the hearing test. Each participant was informed on various aspects of the procedure by the audiometric technician. Using the Modified Hughson-Westlake method of testing, the right ear was tested first unless the participant noted having a better left ear. After the headphones were in place, the participant noted if he/she heard a series of tones or audio cues. Beginning at 1000 hertz and 30 decibels, decibel levels were tested within a frequency range of 500 to 6000 hertz. If a participant didnÕt respond to the cue, then the decibel level was raised by 5 dB & he/she is tested at that level and so on as indicated in the standardized CAOHC testing rules. If the participant responded to the cue, then the dB level was dropped by 10 dB. This continued until the participant responded to the cue at the same level dB on a given frequency 3 times, then that level was recorded as their hearing level at that frequency. Upon testing each ear, the audiogram was mapped out according to hearing levels.

Findings/Results

After testing all eighteen participants, the findings indicate an interesting, but not surprising trend. All audiograms were charted and the results tallied in order to determine if hearing loss is greater in musicians who have been exposed to loud, electronically enhanced music in their career. The non-musicians who were tested ranged in age from 28 to 55 and had acceptable levels of hearing with little to no hearing loss. Almost all of the non-musicians had exceptionally good hearing, while the musicians, who ranged in age from 40 to 50, displayed more overall hearing loss. Most of the musicians had an acceptable range of hearing loss under 25 dB, but showed signs of noise-induced hearing loss in the 4000 to 6000 Hz range as well as the lower frequency range of 500 Hz. Very often, noise induced hearing loss has its greatest impact in the 4000 to 6000 Hz range, which is the frequency range of high pitched sounds such as birds chirping or little children s voices. (Please see Table 1 Š Musicians Hearing Results and Table 2 Š Non-Musicians Hearing Results)

One dramatically noticeable result was in Participant #M-013, a rock musician, who had hearing loss in both ears but a severe loss in his left ear of 65 decibels in the 6000 Hz range. Another factor which may have contributed to his loss of hearing is the fact that he also participates in a noisy hobby; dove hunting. Another rock musician, Participant #M-002, displayed moderate hearing loss in the higher frequency ranges though not as severe as #M-013. Musicians with the least amount of hearing loss appeared to be Jazz musicians without noisy hobbies. It is interesting to note that Participant #NM-012, who had once bartended in a rock & roll nightclub, had the highest level of hearing loss for the non-musicians at the acceptable level of 25 dB in the 4000/6000 Hz range. The next highest loss on the non-musician side was Participant #NM-002 who is not a professional musician, but does play the drums irregularly and is over the age of 55 which may have contributed to the 20 dB loss in the left ear.

Conclusions

The majority of musicians who did not have noisy hobbies or play extremely loud types of music appeared to have better hearing than the musicians who participated in loud extracurricular activities or played rock music. Surprisingly some of these less-loud-noise-exposed-musicians had better hearing than the non-musicians who reported listening to loud music or who had noisy secondary activities. All of the musicians tested performed regularly with electronic enhancement. Most performed with a band as well as solo, with only one performing mainly as a soloist. Only three of the musicians tested, had a primary occupation other than musician. Of the non-musicians tested, all except one, listened to recorded music daily as well as live music monthly. Overwhelmingly, the volume of music listened to was listed as loud. None of the tested subjects in either group had major health concerns or prior ear surgeries. These subjects can be accepted as a random group of varying ages, ethnic diversity and backgrounds. Therefore, it is concluded that although musicians are exposed to more noise it doesn t necessarily mean that they have a higher risk of hearing loss compared to non-musicians, however 4 out of 9 musicians who participated in this study showed hearing loss over the acceptable range of 30 dB. Other factors must be taken into consideration in order to accurately evaluate this hypothesis.

Discussion

Due to the limited amount of participants in this study, it should not be concluded that all musicians have hearing loss problems. A continuation of this project would be more helpful to enable further in depth study on this subject. However, it is a noticeable outcome in this study that exposure to loud sounds or noise for extended periods of time can affect one s hearing levels. Some of the factors which may have affected the outcome of the results are things such as the age of the participant, if the participant had noisy hobbies, how often someone listens to recreational music loudly, and musician s type of musical preference (such as heavy-metal music which has traditionally been performed louder than some other forms of music), in addition to length of time performing as a musician. Another major concern is the possibility that another form of hearing damage may contribute to the outcome of a participant s audiometric test. It is safe to say that more studies are needed in this area as well as musician education on hearing protection. Although many musicians in the industry who are more affluent may have the resources available to purchase high-tech ear monitors, there are many other less affluent musicians who either do not have the resources for such equipment or have not had the educational materials made available to them to allow them to make wise choices concerning their hearing. It would seem that many local musicians who are not American Idols do not have the resources, either monetarily or educationally, to stop hearing loss before it starts.

Bibliography

Elliot Berger, Julia Royster. An Earful of Sound Advice about Hearing Protection. Indianapolis, Indiana: Aearo Company, 1988. This book illustrates types of hearing protection and correct positioning of hearing protection. In addition, it gives an indicator of noise damage along with charts, graphs and diagrams.

Barbara A. Plog, Jill Niland, Patricia J. Quinlan. Fundamentals of Industrial Hygiene - 4th Edition. Itasca, Illinois: National Safety Council, 1996. Fundamentals of Industrial Hygiene is a textbook that focuses on complications encountered in the workplace. It has detailed information on hearing loss due to occupational hazards.

NIOSH. Occupational Noise Exposure. Cincinnati, Ohio: Publications for the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health - CDC, 1998. This is an overview of the criteria for the recommended NIOSH standard for noise control in the workplace. This criteria reevaluates the recommended exposure limit for occupational noise and focuses on the prevention of hearing loss.

H.E.A.R. H.E.A.R. Research Study Survey Preliminary Findings Released. HEARNet (Published 2003): October 2003 . An overview of the study on musicians and hearing loss from amplified sounds. This ten year research study is aimed at the education of the musical community and general public on the dangers of listening to music too loud for lengthy periods of time.

K. Kaharit, G. Zachau, M. Eklof, L. Sandsjo, C. Moller . Assessment of Hearing and hearing disorders in rock/jazz Musicians. International Journal of Audiology (2003): 279-88. The aim of this study is to determine the amount of hearing loss among rock and jazz musicians. Over 139 participants were tested and filled out questionnaires to determine the frequency of hearing loss and sound distortion.

Progressive Conductive Hearing Loss. Auditory Demonstrations. CD-ROM. Houston, TX: Hoover & Keith, 2000. This CD demonstrates hearing variations measured by decibels that mimics the way a person with hearing loss would hear speech. The series of auditory demonstrations illustrate fundamental concepts of hearing conservation.

NIOSH. A Practical Guide to Preventing Hearing Loss. NIOSH online (2003): 96-110. Oct. 2003 www.ded.gov/niosh/96-100x.html. This guide contains charts and graphs on hearing loss and hearing protection devices. It suggests that by using hearing protection, the chance of hearing loss is reduced.

 





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