The purpose of this study was to evaluate the hearing and subjective auditory symptoms in a group of nonprofessional pop/rock musicians who had experienced repeated exposures to intense sound levels during at least 5 yr of musical activity.
An evaluation of both ears in 42 nonprofessional pop/rock musicians included pure-tone audiometry in the conventional and extended high-frequency range, the measurement of uncomfortable loudness levels, and an assessment of tinnitus and hypersensitivity to sound. Exclusion criteria were (a) the occurrence of acoustic trauma, (b) excessive noise exposure during occupational activities, (c) a history of recurrent otitis media, (d) previous ear surgery, (e) a fracture of the cranium, (f) ingestion of potentially ototoxic drugs, and (g) reported hearing difficulties within the immediate family. These audiometric results were then compared with a control group of 20 otologically normal young adults with no history of long-term noise exposure.
After adjusting for age and gender, relative to ISO 7029, the mean hearing threshold in the frequency range of 3 to 8 kHz was 6 dB in the musicians and 1.5 dB in the control group. This difference was statistically significant (Mann-Whitney rank sum test, p < 0.001). A significant difference was also observed between musicians using regular hearing protection during their activities (average 3 to 8 kHz thresholds = 2.4 dB) and musicians who never used such hearing protection (average 3 to 8 kHz thresholds = 8.2 dB), after adjusting for age and gender (Mann-Whitney rank sum test, p = 0.006). Eleven of the musicians (26%) were found to be hypersensitive to sound, and seven (17%) presented with tinnitus. Tinnitus assessment, however, did not reveal any clinically significant psychological distress in these individuals.
Tinnitus and hypersensitivity to sound were observed in a significant minority within a group of nonprofessional pop/rock musicians who had experienced repeated exposure to intense sound levels over at least 5 yr but with minimal impact on their lives. Moreover, hearing loss was minimal in the subjects who always used ear protection, being only 0.9 dB higher than the control group. In contrast, hearing loss was significantly more pronounced, at 6.7 dB higher than the control group, in those musicians who never used ear protection. Continued education about the risk to hearing and the benefits of the persistent use of ear protection is warranted for musicians who are exposed frequently to intense sound levels.