House Ear Institute researchers recently presented data compiled since 1997 indicating that high-frequency hearing loss from noise-induced inner ear damage is evident in individuals repeatedly exposed to high levels of sound; i.e., musicians, music industry professionals, audio engineers and systems contractors. The report results from thousands of hearing screenings conducted at trade shows attended by such audio professionals.
Even when thresholds were within normal limits, all groups shared a characteristic "noise-notch," or loss of hearing sensitivity around the 4 to 6 kilohertz frequency range. Further, compared to the general population, both men and women in music and sound careers show more hearing loss across all age groups.
"This is the first study of this scope to assess hearing loss among professionals in the music and audio industries," says Rachel Cruz, M.A., CCC-A/FAAA, a research audiologist at the House Ear Institute. "Study results confirm what we've suspected for a long time. These groups not only have high-frequency hearing damage from over-exposure to loud sounds, they also acquire it earlier than individuals in the general population, who may experience a high-frequency hearing loss as they age."
When assessing hearing damage for these groups, HEI researchers also considered exposure to noise sources outside of the work environment that might contribute to hearing loss. These additional noise sources included recreational activities and hobbies, home and yard maintenance with power equipment, and commuter noise (car/train/bus). Comparative studies were included to determine contributing factors such as gender, age and history of vocational noise exposure to loud sounds.
HEI researchers emphasize that noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the one type of hearing loss that is preventable, and encourage all music and audio professionals to wear appropriate hearing protection where sound levels exceed the 85 decibel level (dB SPL) for extended periods of time.
For specific sound exposure guidelines, please visit the Sound Partners page on the HEI Web site at www.hei.org.