Update: A previous version of this news item which appeared in the HIR Online News noted that this study was conducted at Finnish Institute of Occupational Health at Tampere University Hospital. It has since been learned that the study was conducted in Helsinki at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. HR apologizes for the error.

HELSINKI, Finland — A study among classical musicians conducted by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, as well as at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health at Tampere University Hospital, and reported by Hear-It.org, found that 15% of the musicians in the study suffered from permanent tinnitus, in comparison to 2% among the general population. Temporary tinnitus affected another 41% of the musicians in group rehearsals and 18% of those in individual rehearsals. It is estimated that 15% of the general population experience tinnitus temporarily.

As many as 43% of the classical musicians suffered from hyperacusis, a hearing disorder characterized by reduced tolerance to specific sound levels not normally regarded as loud for people with normal hearing.

Of the musicians involved, 83% found their jobs stressful. Those suffering from hearing damage were three times more likely to suffer from stress, according to the study. Suffering from tinnitus increased the stress prevalence five-fold, and those with hyperacusis were nine times more likely to suffer from stress.

Up to half of the musicians in the study considered their work environment as noisy. Hearing loss figured prominently in this perception, as well. Musicians with hearing disorders were three to ten times more likely to consider their working environment as very noisy.

Classical musicians are exposed to high levels of noise for 5 to 6 hours daily. The sound level from a double bass, for example, may reach 83 dB, and a flute or the percussion instruments produce as much as 95 dB. This is significantly above the 85 dB maximum recommended noise exposure limit in a workplace, established by the World Health Organization. The European Union directive sets a daily noise exposure limit value of 87 dB in the workplace. If noise levels cannot be adequately reduced, hearing protection must be available and regular hearing tests must be conducted to safeguard the employees’ hearing health.

Less than 1 musician in 4 in the Finnish study used hearing protection, even though 70% of the musicians said they we concerned about their hearing. Among the musicians with normal hearing, only 10% to 15% used hearing protection, while the rate of hearing impaired musicians using hearing protection was about 10 percentage points higher.

Although special hearing protection has been designed for musicians, the musicians in the Finnish study said that they find it difficult to perform and hear the others playing when using hearing protection. They also found the hearing protection uncomfortable to wear and adjust. Some found them hard to use due to existing hearing problems. Others believed that music would not damage their hearing.

A related article has been published by Heli Laitinen and Torben Poulsen (Questionnaire Investigation of Musicians, Use of hearing protectors, Self-reported Hearing Disorders, and Their Experience of Their Working Environment) in the April edition of the International Journal of Audiology.

SOURCE: Hear-It and other sources

Source: Effects of Noise on Classical Musicians, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health,
Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Magazine 8. Post modified from a report found on www.hear-it.org.