In addition to all of them being musicians, what do Barbra Streisand, Neil Young, Pete Townshend and Brian Wilson have in common? They all suffered permanent hearing loss, directly as a result of playing their music.

I often work with musicians who have experienced hearing damage as a result of their longtime love of playing music. When a musician is exposed to loud music they can suffer from noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) which produces ringing in the ears, sometimes referred to as tinnitus. With similar ongoing exposure permanent hearing loss can result.

And this is true whether you play in a rock band onstage in front of thousands, in a symphony orchestra, in a chamber music group, or at home, rehearsing. Hearing loss can occur when exposed to any sound over 85 decibels (dB) in volume for prolonged lengths of time. An electric guitar played onstage generates 120dB, but a violin can produce 103dB, and thus cause almost as much hearing loss. In fact, hearing instrument specialists researching hearing loss in musicians have found that overexposure to sound while rehearsing adds up to more hours than they spend on stage performing.

Musicians can take steps to protect their hearing despite this unavoidable exposure to sound that exceeds acceptable levels, even in seemingly quiet rehearsal settings. When investing in high-quality ear protection beyond what can be had from drug-store Styrofoam ear plugs, performers can trust their hearing is protected. Manufactures of ear protection today still use the original and proven design first invented by Etymotic Research over 20 years ago. Unlike the cheap Styrofoam earplugs that simply block sound, musician ear protection customized for you by your hearing instrument specialist allows you to hear your normal full range of sound, just at a reduced volume ensuring your hearing is protected. You can find universal-fit musicians earplugs in most stores that sell musical instruments, starting at about $15 a pair. Whether you are a professional musician or just someone who plays for fun, I recommend a better form of protection – custom-molded musicians earplugs with the Etymotic filter in place. These will be more comfortable to wear for long periods of time, more effective at blocking undesirable levels of noise while allowing you to hear the music properly, and easier to clean and care for. Yes, they're more expensive than the earplugs sold in music stores, but since hearing damage is irreversible, how much is your ability to hear the music you play worth to you?

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