The Link Between Musicians and Tinnitus

Musicians are among the most at risk of developing hearing loss and tinnitus. But why do so many musicians suffer from tinnitus, and what can be done to prevent it?

We don’t usually think about how loud our music, instruments, and parties are. However, while it might not seem like a big deal right now, prolonged exposure to loud noises can cause serious damage to our ears. If we want to avoid tinnitus and hearing loss, we have to understand why these conditions occur, and take care to protect our hearing.

What Is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is commonly characterized as a ringing in your ears, but it can come in several different forms. For some people, it sounds like a dull roar, while others hear a high-pitched hum. Tinnitus can sound like:

These sounds might change in pitch, volume, and intensity at different times. It can come and go and alternate between deafening and easily ignored. Many people are able to ignore tinnitus, while others find it difficult to concentrate whenever their tinnitus gets too loud.

While tinnitus can be a symptom of blood vessel problems and other minor issues, it can also be a sign of sensorineural hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by the degradation of the inner ear. This usually occurs after prolonged noise exposure, and musicians are more at risk of this condition. Loud noises wear down the hairs inside the cochlea, which leads to a loss of hearing. This hearing loss can manifest as tinnitus, and some cases of tinnitus can become severely debilitating.

Why Musicians Are At Risk of Tinnitus

When you go to a loud concert or club, your ears probably ring for a little while afterward. Imagine going to shows and performing for a living. Musicians are constantly surrounded by speakers, instruments, and loud drums. This constant noise exposure has a serious effect on people’s hearing, and it can cause tinnitus and sensorineural hearing loss.

Even when musicians aren’t performing, they’re attending practice sessions, listening to music, and working to improve their skills. Many musicians also have a passion for music, which leads them to buy tickets for other artists’ shows. When your entire life revolves around loud sounds, this can wear down your hearing exponentially.

This doesn’t just apply to rock musicians, however. A large portion of orchestral musicians experience tinnitus, and 20% suffer from severe tinnitus themselves. Even celebrities aren’t safe from the effects of tinnitus. Notable musicians with tinnitus include:

  • Phil Collins, drummer and singer for Genesis with a successful solo career. He stepped back from performing after suffering from tinnitus and hearing loss.
  • Barbra Streisand, famous vocalist,  actress, and filmmaker. She has discussed having tinnitus and has suffered from the condition since she was 9.
  • Pete Townsend, co-founder, backing vocalist, and guitarist of The Who. He suffers from tinnitus and has become a prominent hearing loss advocate among rockers.
  • Chris Martin, Coldplay frontman. He regularly wears earplugs to shows to avoid further damage.

However, musicians aren’t the only ones running the risk of developing tinnitus. Hearing loss can happen to anyone, including all the people in the crowd attending loud shows. Recently, people who are avid concertgoers and partiers are reporting higher rates of tinnitus. Clubs that play loud music over the speakers are just as bad as large concerts and sports games, so it’s important to wear ear protection while attending these events.

Can Tinnitus Be Cured?

Like most issues caused by hearing damage, tinnitus cannot be “cured” in a traditional sense. While treatments exist to alleviate tinnitus and mask the sound, tinnitus cannot be permanently cured with medication or surgery. However, discovering the root cause of your tinnitus can help you get the treatment you need to cope with your tinnitus.

These treatments can include:

  • Hearing aids for sensorineural hearing loss. If your tinnitus stems from hearing loss, treating the hearing loss itself can alleviate tinnitus. Many hearing aids come with tinnitus programs to help you overcome the background noise.
  • Tinnitus maskers. If your tinnitus can be mitigated by placing your ear near rushing water or white noise makers, tinnitus maskers can mimic these noises so you can focus and relax.
  • Tinnitus therapy. There are forms of audio therapy that “train” your brain to put the sound of your tinnitus in the background. This makes it easier to ignore your tinnitus and overcome it.

If you are suffering from tinnitus, get your hearing tested. Your audiologist can examine your results and determine if you have treatable hearing loss. From there, you can find a solution to your tinnitus.

Reducing The Risk of Tinnitus

If you don’t already have tinnitus, the best thing to do is protect your hearing and do what you can to reduce the risk of developing this condition. For those that already suffer from tinnitus, protecting what’s left is the most important part of treatment.

You can protect your hearing by:

  • Wearing ear protection during concerts, hunting trips, car shows, sports games, and other loud situations.
  • If you work as a musician, construction worker, soldier, or mechanic, you should take extra care to protect your hearing during your day-to-day job.
  • Take a break after loud days. Your ears need rest, especially after being exposed to loud noises.
  • Turn down the volume. Your television, car radio, and headphones are all sources of loud noise. Dial down the volume and try listening to quiet music and podcasts from time to time.
  • Get your hearing tested often. You should do this every few years at least. A lot can change over time, and just because your hearing is fine today doesn’t mean it will be fine later down the line. Hearing loss is gradual, so you might not notice any changes.

Are you interested in protecting your hearing and learning more about aural health? Signia has a number of articles on tinnitus and hearing loss, along with general ear health and hearing aids. Browse our archive of content, or subscribe to our newsletter for notifications about future articles