The concept of the The Voice, a singing competition famous for its blind auditions (the judges will not see the contestants until they chose turn their chairs to look at them), is a portrayal of the significance and criticality of using the ears and the auditory modality. Without hearing or with reduced ability to hear, the judges won’t ever decide to push the button that would turn their chair towards the contestants. Without their auditory prowess, their careers, first and foremost, would suffer.
But for that matter, it is abstract. The concrete and real ones that suffer are the ears and its hair cells. One kind of hearing impairment is called the noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). It is a loss of hearing due to the prolonged exposure to loud noises that causes degeneration of hair cells or the cells found in the innermost parts of the ears. These cells transmit information about hearing to the brain. The degeneration of these cells would lead to the inability or reduced ability to hear. NIHL was observed in the ears of the workers in noisy environments like factories (Goldstein, 2014). Likewise, engaging in portable music for a prolonged period of time and for considerable loud intensities (85 dB and above) can also lead to NIHL. The kind of noise from activities such as listening to portable music, recreational gun use, riding motorcycles, and playing musical instruments is called leisure noise. With these noises, the amount of hearing loss depends on the level of sound intensity and the duration of exposure (Goldstein, 2014).
A recent study of Pouryaghoub, Mehrdad, and Pourhosein (2017) makes it a point to highlight the noise-induced hearing loss experienced by professional musicians. They found out that despite the essential role of good hearing in music career, the prevalence of hearing loss was high among the musicians.
Pouryaghoub and his colleagues (2017) examined 125 professional musicians (21 women, 104 men) of traditional and/or pop music from the music academies in Tehran, Iran. The mean age of the participants is 35.9 years and the mean work experience was 12.4 years. The mean duration of their noise exposure is 15.8 hours a week. Pouryaghoub and his colleagues made them answer a 28-item questionnaire regarding general information (e.g., age, gender, auditory complaints, thinking about using personal protective devices, and frequency of using personal protective devices) and occupational exposures and experiences (e.g., the duration of playing musical instruments, the number of hours of playing music per week, history of exposure to other risk factors for hearing loss). After, they were examined clinically using audiometric tests.
They found out that about half of the participants experienced tinnitus (noise or ringing in the ears) after a performance, 28% had ear pain during the performance, and 56% of the participants had experienced one of these symptoms during or after the performance. Despite of these, only 3 participants reported using protective devices to prevent NIHL and one reported never using any protective devices. Another significant finding in this study is the difference between the frequency of the reported subjective complaints and the objective symptoms obtained from the audiometric test results. Of the 62% of the participants found to have impairments in the audiometric tests, only 7% of the participants complained of their hearing impairments. It was concluded that “musicians’ lack of attention to preventive measures and screening programs, along with their mere attention to subjective symptoms and complaints, contributed to not only the development, but also the delayed diagnosis of many cases of hearing loss among this group of professionals” (Pouryaghoub, Mehrdad, & Pourhosein, 2017, p. 36).
The risk of having noise-induced hearing loss was found to be higher in musicians with 10 years or more work experience. However, not only those who professionally needs hearing like the musicians display a neglect in using protective hearing measures. Young individuals likewise are at risk of ear damage and hearing loss due to their engagement in many leisure noise activities. They, too, were found to have low levels of engagement in noise reduction (Gilliver, Beach, & Williams, 2015). Gilliver and colleagues (2015) found that 39% of the surveyed young individuals are engaging in noise reduction behaviors, but the majority of the participants are still neglectful of noise reduction.
These findings have shown that we should also care for our ears as we do with our eyes (or any other parts of our body for that matter). If we have shades for a sunny day, then we also should have ear muffs or any ear protection gears for a noisy surrounding. Awareness for ear health is the important implication of these studies. It would be lovely to see developments in ear care like the ones we see in the sophisticated and trendy designs of eyeglasses nowadays. Maybe, in the next few decades, wearing ear muffs of different designs and sizes would be the norm and trend in attending concerts and musicals. It would also be lovely to see popular musicians spilling their health care secrets about not only their voices (throats), but also their ears.
How do you care for your ears? Share your answers below!
Gilliver, M., Beach, E. F., & Williams, W. (2015). Changing beliefs about leisure noise: Using health promotion models to investigate young people’s engagement with, and attitudes towards, hearing health. International journal of audiology, 54(4), 211-219.
Goldstein, E. B. (2014). Sensation and Perception, 9th Edition. USA: Wadsworth/Cengage.
Pouryaghoub, G., Mehrdad, R., & Pourhosein, S. (2017). Noise-Induced hearing loss among professional musicians. Journal of Occupational Health, 59(1), 33-37.