Loud music can damage classical musicians’ hearing, too

Photo credit: Derek Gleeson licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

When we think of music damaging the ears, we think of rock musicians, many of whom unfortunately have noise-induced hearing loss or tinnitus, or of young people going to clubs or rock concerts. We don’t think of classical musicians.

But loud noise doesn’t discriminate–it can damage anyone’s ears, including workers, hunters, and yes, even a professional viola player.

These two reports describe an ongoing legal case in London, where a viola player has sued the Royal Opera House for damage he claims occurred during a Wagner performance, despite wearing ear plugs.

The Royal Opera House is claiming that such damage isn’t possible, and that it isn’t responsible, but I would disagree. It’s hard to study the effects of intermittent or impulsive noise exposure even in the occupational setting, but several facts are well-established:

  1. extremely loud sound can cause mechanical disruption to structures in the inner ear;
  2. there are marked variations in individual sensitivities to noise damage, which are not well understood; and
  3. many people do not get sufficient protection from ear plugs due to poor fit or improper use, even with instruction and practice.

The resolution of this case is not up to us but within the purview of the court.

But the lesson we can all learn is that “if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.”

And if noise is bothersome, that’s the signal to leave immediately, before your ears are damaged. After all, unlike knees or hips, they can’t be replaced.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *