That’s a hard YES. Loud music, like machinery, like traffic noise, like any one-off or consistent exposure to loud noise, can affect your hearing. But, it’s important to understand that Tinnitus is a symptom not a disease, and fixing the cause of it, or preventing it in the first place, are better goals.
You don’t need to be a Musician to have Tinnitus, though, if you are a Musician, you’ve chosen a profession with an in-built and obvious exposure to risk.
Do all types of Musicians get Tinnitus?
I define a Musician as someone who plies their trade creating music … and gets paid for it, consistently and often. Your eight-year-old blowing excruciatingly and (what seems like) interminably into a recorder is not a Musician. And, while the immediate pain in your ears might be hard to shake as a consequence, it’s not Tinnitus and it’s not causing your child to ‘get’ Tinnitus. By the way, tone deafness is something completely different.
While trying to define a Musician, it’s also important to realise that not all Musicians, and their likelihood to ‘get’ Tinnitus, are facing a similar risk. Just compare an acoustic guitarist with a weekend residency at the local country pub (yes, they qualify as a Musician) to a base player in a thrash rock band playing 200 stadium dates on a world tour. Pubs can get noisy, but, hello, don’t even attempt to compare the long-term risk. And that acoustic guitarist takes more breaks to rest their ears (and use their drinks card).
Okay, let’s go full alarmist. Tinnitus can be to deafness as Angina is to heart attack. Angina indicates the arteries of the heart are ‘under stress’, but with treatment it doesn’t necessarily lead to heart attack.
Tinnitus is an indication of ear problems, but similarly, doesn’t necessarily lead to significant hearing loss or deafness.
Which Musicians have less Tinnitus?
Back to Musicians. Oddly, the fully professional thrash rock guitarist is far more likely to use preventative measures to protect their hearing than the crowd at their concert or the weekend acoustic guitarist, specifically because it’s their livelihood and they recognise the risks of doing nothing. Musicians of all types often use specially engineered in-ear plugs to filter the loud and high sounds and ambient crowd noise. These help them to better hear the rest of the band, their own performance and, for lead singers, to stay in tune. It also protects their hearing.
Nevertheless, Musicians do suffer symptoms and hearing loss at a rate far above the general public. Prolonged exposure to loud music is directly responsible for hearing loss and Tinnitus is a likely symptom of that.
Best Hearing Tip for Musicians
The first rule about Tinnitus is to not ignore Tinnitus. It indicates there’s a problem in your ear. By the way, Tinnitus is not the Roman God of loud music, though the name derives, like many health and medical terms, from Latin. It translates, delightfully, as a ‘tinkling’, but not everyone has the same experience of it, and it’s rarely delightful, ranging from annoying to severely debilitating.
Ear and hearing problems can still be some of the hardest to diagnose and treat, even though they are quite common. Your GP should be the first to get involved, but we didn’t train up audiologists and ENT specialists for no reason. Pinpointing whether the Tinnitus is a symptom of an infection, and inner ear problem, exposure to loud music or any other cause can take time. Therapies, drugs, procedures and hearing aids could be part of specifically targeted treatments.
Prevention is better than cure. It’s possibly better to ask whether Musicians (or any of us) can avoid or prevent Tinnitus. Not a hard yes for a Musician, and, for the rest of us it’s best to remember that noise is not music to our ears.