Most musicians are aware of hearing protection, but what can they do about already damaged hearing? Can hearing aids be worn while making music? Here Omaha, Nebraska, audiologists Kendell Simms, Au.D., CCC-A and Joel Edwards, Au.D., CCC-A, who both work with the national hearing healthcare provider network EarQ at Boys Town National Research Hospital Audiology, answer some questions.
Q: I play violin in a community orchestra, and when the brass plays it hurts my ears. What can I do to prevent this discomfort, and still hear my violin?
A: It is important for anyone with consistent exposure to loud sounds to obtain a baseline audiogram, or hearing test, in case there is decreased hearing in the future. An audiologist will review options for custom-fitted, filtered earplugs that reduce damaging sound levels, but also allow you to hear music.
Q: My ears ring after I play a bar gig. What should I do?
A: Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, can be an indication of hearing loss and/or a sign that you have been exposed to loud noise for too long. Stepping outside during gigs for 15-minute noise breaks provides some relief. Contact an audiologist to discuss hearing protection options like in-ear monitors (IEM). Simple measures can make a huge difference in minimizing hearing loss.
Q: I have hearing loss and trouble hearing the director of the band. Is there anything that can help me without being too noticeable?
A: It is excellent that you have come to terms with the fact that you have hearing loss. Hearing aids may be an effective option. Visit an audiologist to review options. Technology has come a long way. Most people are pleasantly surprised at the devices’ small size, and to learn that they can be programmed for specific listening situations. For example, they can be programmed to reduce interference as you listen to the ensemble when performing or rehearsing. Some hearing aids process speech and music differently so there is less conflict in musical environments.
Q: I play in a community band, and the trumpets are blaring behind me. I’m afraid of losing my hearing. What are my options?
A: In addition to using hearing protection, talk to other band members about setting up in another configuration so that you are not right in front of the trumpets. Also, you could look into using on-stage baffles to block the sound.
Q: I sing with some friends in a rock band. I hate singing with earplugs, but I also know I need to protect my hearing. Is there another option?
A: Talk to an audiologist about filtered earplugs. Additionally, let him know that you sing, and/or play, because the length of the earplug can make a difference. A slightly shorter earplug makes a good cheap monitoring system for vocalists.
Q: I have a hearing loss in both ears, but need to be able to monitor sound through in-ear monitors on stage, what are my options?
A: This is one of the biggest challenges we see. You could use an in-ear monitor in one ear, and a filtered earplug in the other ear for protection.
Q: I heard wearing hearing aids and playing music is not a good combination. Is that true? Won’t it cause further damage?
A: An audiologist sets the hearing aids based on your hearing loss and listening needs. They can be programmed for use when playing music. Your brain may have to be trained on how to listen to music again, but this happens quickly. Some hearing aids have a “music program” to make music sound as normal as possible. When you schedule a hearing aid evaluation, bring recorded music and your instrument. After your initial fitting, you’ll wear the hearing aids for a while to give your brain time to adjust before meeting with the audiologist again for fine-tuning.
Audiologists program hearing aids to have a “maximum output” to prevent amplification from reaching levels that could harm residual hearing. Hearing aids will not cause further damage as long as they are programmed correctly .
Though not an instant fix, hearing aids do help if you are dedicated to wearing them.
This article is from our September-October 2013 issue. Click here to order.