Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Note - The information in this document is generic and advisory in nature. It is not a substitute for professional, medical judgments. It should not be used as a basis for medical treatment. If you are concerned about your hearing or think you may have suffered hearing loss, consult a licensed medical professional.

Part of the role of any professional is to remain in the best condition to practice the profession. As an aspiring musician, this involves safeguarding your hearing health. Whatever your plans after graduation – whether they involve playing, teaching, engineering, or simply enjoying music – you owe it to yourself and your fellow musicians to do all you can to protect your hearing.

If you are serious about pursuing a career in music, you need to protect your hearing. The way you hear music, the way you recognize and differentiate pitch, the way you play music; all are directly connected to your hearing.

Music & Noise

In the scientific world, all types of sound, including music, are regularly categorized as noise. A sound that it too loud, or too loud for too long, is dangerous to hearing health, no matter what kind of sound it is or whether we call it noise, music, or something else. Music itself is not the issue. Loudness and its duration are the issues. Music plays an important part in hearing health, but hearing health is far larger than music.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)

We experience sound in our environment, such as the sounds from television and radio, household appliances, and traffic. Normally, we hear these sounds at safe levels that do not affect our hearing. However, when we are exposed to harmful noise–sounds that are too loud or loud sounds that last a long time–sensitive structures in our inner ear can be damaged, causing noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). These sensitive structures, called hair cells, are small sensory cells that convert sound energy into electrical signals that travel to the brain. Once damaged, our hair cells cannot grow back.

NIHL can be caused by a one-time exposure to an intense "impulse" sound, such as an explosion, or by continuous exposure to loud sounds over an extended period of time. The humming of a refrigerator is 45 decibels, normal conversation is approximately 60 decibels, and the noise from heavy city traffic can reach 85 decibels. Sources of noise that can cause NIHL include motorcycles, firecrackers, and small firearms, all emitting sounds from 120 to 150 decibels. Long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. The louder the sound, the shorter the time period before NIHL can occur. Sounds of less than 75 decibels, even after long exposure, are unlikely to cause hearing loss.

Although being aware of decibel levels is an important factor in protecting one's hearing, distance from the source of the sound and duration of exposure to the sound are equally important. A good rule of thumb is to avoid noises that are "too loud" and "too close" or that last "too long."

It is very important to understand that the hair cells in your inner ear cannot regenerate. Damage done to them is permanent. There is no way to repair or undo this damage.

According to the American Academy of Audiology, approximately 26 million Americans have hearing loss. One in three developed their hearing loss as a result of exposure to noise.

As you pursue your day-to-day activities, both in the School of Music and in other educational, vocational, and recreational environments, remember:

85 dB (vacuum cleaner, MP3 player at 1/3 volume) – 8 hours 90 dB (blender, hair dryer) – 2 hours 94 dB (MP3 player at 1/2 volume) – 1 hour 100 dB (MP3 player at full volume, lawnmower) – 15 minutes 110 dB (rock concert, power tools) – 2 minutes 120 dB (jet planes at take-off) – without ear protection, sound damage is almost immediate

  1. Hearing health is essential to your lifelong success as a musician.
  2. Your hearing can be permanently damaged by loud sounds, including music. Technically, this is called Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL). This danger is constant.
  3. Noise-induced hearing loss is generally preventable. You must avoid overexposure to loud sounds, especially for long periods of time.
  4. The closer you are to the source of a loud sound, the greater the risk of damage.
  5. Sounds over 85 dB (your typical vacuum cleaner) in intensity pose the greatest risk to your hearing.
  6. Recommended maximum daily exposure times to sounds at or above 85 dB are as follows:
  7. Certain behaviors (controlling volume levels in practice and rehearsal, planning rehearsal order to provide relief from high volume works, avoiding noisy environments) reduce your risk of hearing loss.
  8. The use of earplugs (Sensaphonics, ProGuard, Sensorcom) helps to protect your hearing health.
  9. Day-to-day decisions can impact your hearing health, both now and in the future. Since sound exposure occurs in and out of the School of Music, you also need to learn more and take care of your own hearing health on a daily, even hourly basis.
  10. If you are concerned about your personal hearing health, talk with a medical professional.
  11. If you are concerned about your hearing health in relationship to your study of music at UNLV, consult with your applied instructor, ensemble conductor, advisor, or school chair.