Janet Horvath  

Hear No Evil

Janet Horvath
April 16, 2019

Protect Your Ears: Some Prevention Strategies

1) Practice more softly. Consider wearing earplugs to practice loud passages.

2) Avoid practice in small rooms with hard surfaces. We all sound fabulous in a small tiled room, but such spaces are harmful to our hearing.

3) Distance yourself. Whenever possible, increase the space between you and the noise.

4) Use Plexiglas shields and hearing protection. The Etymotic Research ER-15 & ER-25 Musicians Earplugs are deep fitting, custom-fitted ear plugs that one can play with, and they are very effective in reducing the decibel level by 15 or 25 dBA. But store-bought earplugs work too! Carry them wherever you go and remember that cotton or tissue doesn’t work!

5) Minimize your exposure. Our ears are subject to constant abuse, both on and off the stage. Avoid exposure to environmental noise as well. Noise directly contributes to hearing loss and tinnitus. Be vigilant about your exposure, both on the job and off. Wear ear protection when you are exposed to loud music or when you operate power tools.

6) Alternate your repertoire. Whenever possible, alternate noisy pieces of music with quieter ones. This protects you from overusing one particular muscle group as well as your ears.

7) Avoid air travel when you are congested due to a cold or sinus or ear infection. Serious damage can occur with changes in air pressure. If travel is imperative, consider using a decongestant, and use a nose spray when you put your seatbelt on and again prior to landing if you’ve flown four hours or more.

8) Take breaks. Take a 10-minute break every hour for both your body and your ears. Go to a quiet room after a particularly bombastic rehearsal or performance, and if you go to or perform in a loud concert on Friday, don’t mow your lawn on Saturday. Give yourself a 16-18 hour auditory rest period whenever possible.

9) Violinists: protect your left ear. A violinist’s left ear is bombarded with sounds as high as 100 decibels coming out of the F-hole – about as much sound as a sporting event and almost as loud as a French horn! At least when you practice, use hearing protection in that ear.

10) Hum! When you might be caught without your earplugs, hum. Humming or grunting just prior to a loud noise like a cymbal crash and sustaining the hum through the sound gives significant protection. This is because we have a small muscle called the stapedial muscle, which, when contracted, partially blocks loud sounds from getting through to cause damage.

11) Turn down volumes on everything and avoid unnecessary exposure to loud noise.

12) Get better headphones. Avoid ear buds and limit your time listening in this fashion.

13) Quit smoking. Your risk for hearing loss is double that of your non-smoking counterparts.

Watch for Signs of Trouble:

  • Hypersensitivity to sound where even normal sounds seem loud or even painful.
  • Trouble hearing in noisy situations.
  • Trouble discerning consonants such as P, T, B, and D.
  • Trouble discerning subtle shadings, colors or overtones.
  • A single tone sounds as a different pitch in each ear.
  • Any ringing in the ears.
  • A tendency to speak loudly.
  • Turning up the volume on your TV, telephone, DVD player, or iPod, especially after a performance.

We need to be serious about our hearing health. Make an appointment to get a base-line hearing test so that, in the years to come, you can monitor any changes that might be occurring.

Hearing loss is a combination of factors. You can sustain hearing loss at any age if you are exposed to noise that is too loud, too close to you, or if you are exposed for too long a time. Your ears are your most important asset if you are a musician. Protect them!

From Janet Horvath’s
Playing (less) Hurt - An Injury Prevention Guide for Musicians
Available for $23.95 at www.playinglesshurt.com.
© 2002 and 2006 by Janet Horvath

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Comments (Click to Hide)

The reference to in-ear headphones is completely misinterpreted. On the contrary, in-ear noise isolating headphones are generally recommended by most studies, including Fligor's who concluded that users tend to exceed much less the recommended levels when using in-ear noise isolating headphones. In-ear headphones are more dangerous only if you listen at loud volume levels, but the purpose of noise-isolating headphones is completely the opposite: to allow users to turn down the volume and actually listen at safer volume levels than with normal headphones!

Even the article you mentioned says in fact:

"Five Ways to Save Your Ears

3. Get better headphones: Those that shut out external noise allow you to turn down the tunes. In-ear phones like Etymotic's ER6 ($139) and Shure's E4C ($299) go deep into the ear canal to block pretty much all outside noise".

And at http://www.physorg.com/news80304823.html :

"In a separate study to be presented at the conference, Fligor and Ives observed the listening habits of 100 doctoral students listening to iPods through earphones. When the students were in a quiet environment, they found that only 6 percent of them turned their players to risky sound levels. When in a noisy environment, a dramatically higher 80% of the students listened to the music at risky levels. When they used an "in-the-ear" earphone designed to block out background noise, only 20 percent exceeded sound levels considered to be risky. This suggests, Fligor says, that seeking out quiet environments and using "isolator" earphones designed to block out background noise help listeners avoid the tendency to play music at sound levels that can pose risks to their hearing."
zamolxis on April 16, 2019 at 9:55 AM

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