Music Induced Hearing Loss Is Becoming A Big Problem

Posted on October 24, 2011 in Health Education, Physical Health | Short Link
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What is Music Induced Hearing Loss (MIHL)?

Music Induced Hearing Loss is a disorder in which a person has been exposed to high levels of music over a prolonged period of time. People of all ages, demographics and gender may be affected by MIHL. Music Induced Hearing Loss is caused from too much sound intensity going through and into the auditory system. First, a signal from a radio, amplifier, television or other energy source enters the auditory canal. From there, the sound is funneled to the tympanic membrane, the eardrum. As the eardrum works as an elastic diaphragm, it then continues the sound to the middle ear.

The middle ear system then uses the stapes footplate hammering to transfer the mechanical energy to the cochlea. Motion from the hammering pushes cochlea fluid up against the stereo cilia of the hair cells. From there, the signal finally makes it to the central auditory system. In the case of MIHL, the sound that is excessive may lead to over-stimulation in the final step of sound transfer. This means that the hair cells will create too much reactive oxygen species, inevitably killing oxidative cells and creating hearing loss.

In summary, Music Induced Hearing Loss is caused by the over-stimulation of hair cells within the central auditory system. As the full structure of the hair cells must remain fully intact for perfect hearing, any structural damage may result in hearing loss. In these cases, severe structural damage may take place, causing hearing loss or even the distortion of music and sound. Music Induced Hearing Loss is characterized as a distortion and attenuation of music stimuli entering the central auditory system.

What are the common causes?

Prolonged exposure to sound is the number one cause of Music Induced Hearing Loss. Decibels between eighty five and ninety measured on the A scale may cause loss of hearing. Exposure to sounds between ninety and one hundred decibels for prolonged periods of time does cause hearing loss. Sometimes, even brief exposure to high decibels of sound can cause loss of hearing.

Even when sounds between one hundred and one hundred and thirty decibels are brief, hearing can still be lost. Also, single exposure to levels higher than one hundred and forty decibels can cause hearing loss. Generally speaking though, ears can handle short periods of music at one hundred twenty and above, but long term exposure is much more dangerous. Extended periods or regular exposure to anything over eighty decibels can cause permanent hearing loss.

What are the detrimental affects? 

Prolonged exposure to music at loud levels may cause hearing loss. People with Music Induced Hearing Loss may not be able to hear sounds under certain thresholds. Those with worse damage may not be able to understand speech or music altogether due to the difficulty in processing sounds. Generally, these issues can be determined and diagnosed through a simple, standard hearing test.

People who have been exposed to loud music may have the condition called Tinnitus. Common symptoms include a hissing, ringing or buzzing in the ear, caused by the ear and not an outside source. This is usually temporary, but very uncomfortable, annoying and persistent. Sometimes the sound can last more than five minutes, in which it is considered ‘Prolonged Spontaneous Tinnitus.’ Tinnitus’ cause is still unknown, though it is clear that people with aging, exposure to loud music and those with hearing impairments are more likely to suffer from the condition.

  • Age-Related Hearing Loss – Research showing age-related hearing loss is more common than previously believed and more detrimental if you’ve already suffered from noise-induced hearing loss, is detailed here.
  • Risk of Hearing Loss and Tinnitus Associated with Music – (PDF) Study showing levels of exposure during practice, rehearsal and performance are
    capable of damaging the hearing mechanism.
  • College Students Often Miss Mark When Reporting ‘Normal’ Hearing – Some college students who think they have normal hearing may actually be overestimating their abilities.
  • Pediatric Audiology – This site describes noise-related hearing loss, from what it is, to symptoms, causes, types, and how to diagnose, treat, and prevent it.
  • Ethnomusicologists and Noise-Induced hearing Loss – (PDF) This document presents noise-induced hearing loss as a research problem and occupational hazard in ethnomusicology.

Is the damage permanent?

Hearing issues that have been associated with the middle or outer ear are usually not permanent and can be treated with proper medical care. Unfortunately though, problems taking place in the inner ear or the auditory nerve are generally permanent. For those that cannot understand music or speech anymore due to hearing loss, these symptoms are typically permanent as well. High pitch hearing loss and Tinnitus is usually just a symptom warning the person to turn down noise or to get seen. These issues are usually temporary and may go away over time.

What can you do to decrease your risk?

Music Induced Hearing Loss can easily be prevented by using products that protect the ear. Earplugs and earmuffs are the most popular options, readily available all over the world. These options provide five to ten decibels of protection for the wearer. Popular reasons people avoid ear safety products include discomfort and embarrassment. Fortunately there have been more comfortable and socially acceptable products available. Many people used to think that the quality of sound would deplete because of sound protection. As more products become available, consumers are finding more hearing protection that does not negate music quality.

It is important to be educated on music safety, in order to understand what levels are safe. Most musicians are exposed to dangerously high decibels on a daily basis. Although there is not enough data to conclude that the risk for hearing loss is parallel to music exposure, ear safety should remain a priority for all musicians. Studies specifically geared toward music are rare, making it especially difficult to draw conclusions as to what form is more or less dangerous than another. Regardless, the need to prevent MIHL and protect your hearing is clear. As occupational and industrial noise exposure has been well documented, it is safe to link the research but not assume the same characteristics.


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