Highway to Hearing Hell: Musicians and the Danger of Deafness

Trevor Cox, University of Salford

AC/DC have postponed their US tour after singer Brian Johnson was warned by doctors that he was at risk of “total hearing loss.” This is unsurprising, perhaps, given the decades that the Australian band has been pumping out the hard rock decibels. But deafness isn’t only a concern for rock musicians, or drum and bass DJs – from classical violinists to pop singers, in recent years it’s become clear that anyone around music a lot has reason to be equally worried.

The largest study into noise-induced hearing loss in musicians was published in 2014. Three million Germans were examined, including 2,227 professional musicians. They found that the musicians were about four times as likely to report a new noise-induced hearing loss compared to the general population.

Many studies into classical musicians have also found evidence of problems. One study from the 1990s found that violinists and violists have more hearing loss in their left ear compared to their right ear. This loss of hearing is caused by the musician’s own instruments, as the violin is placed under the chin with the left ear almost touching the instrument. Five studies have found that between 37% and 58% of classical musicians experience hearing loss. For rock and pop the numbers are similar, with studies finding that just under half of musicians suffering from a hearing loss.

Far from safe either; Minerva Studio/Shutterstock

Noise-induced hearing loss

Whether you are exposed to factory noise or listening to music, risk to hearing arises from a combination of how loud the sound is and how long you are exposed to it for. If you visit a nightclub that is thumping out music on the dance floor at 100 dB (A-weighted), then after only 10-15 minutes the exposure is —> Read More