A Massey researcher has found almost two thirds of adult orchestral musicians have hearing loss.
As part of his PhD research, Dr Sargunam Sivaraj performed an extensive audiological evaluation of 183 Wellington-based orchestral musicians. He conducted hearing tests, measured their personal music exposure and studied the progression of hearing loss over time.
The study found 61 percent of the adult musicians aged 27-66 had a hearing loss; in youth musicians aged 18-38 that rate was 22 percent, and 16 percent in child musicians aged 8-12.
"Hearing loss is found in all groups of musicians, it is not specific to loud musical instruments or musicians with many years of music exposure," Dr Sivaraj says.
Dr Sivaraj explains some individual musician’s hearing loss starts at a very early age, and gradual deterioration is observed with increased music exposure. For others hearing is well preserved in spite of extensive music exposure. "There seems to be large individual variations in initiation and rate of progression of hearing loss."
Female musicians were also found to have better hearing thresholds than males, and the progression of hearing loss is slower in females than males.
Dr Sivaraj says onethird of all types of hearing loss can be attributed to music and noise exposure.
Dr Sivaraj says the research, the first comprehensive study in the world on hearing loss in orchestral musicians, aimed to provide a greater understanding of the effects of music on "hearing health" of musicians, and to help develop preventive strategies to minimise hearing damage in all musicians.
The study revealed that although adult and youth orchestra musicians are aware of the dangers of repeated exposure to loud music and the benefits of musicians’ plugs, few used them.
Dr Sivaraj said shortening rehearsals, incorporating a break in the midst of a session, and avoiding rehearsals and performances on the same day should be seriously considered to limit music exposure. He also stresses musicians need their own individual hearing loss prevention programs and believes there is a need for established guidelines and standards for noise and music exposure in the music school environment. He said young musicians need to be taught that their ears are their most important musical instrument.
"It is important we adopt different strategies for different individuals as there is a large individual variation in susceptibility or vulnerability to noise or music; otherwise prevention of noise-induced hearing loss in musicians will remain an elusive goal."