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French Horn Players at Risk for Hearing Loss

by Alexandra Kilpatrick

Everyone knows that loud music can lead to hearing loss, but a rock concert isn’t the only place where you can damage your ears.

French horn players in classical orchestras are also vulnerable to hearing damage from the music they perform.

Recent studies show that French horn players produce some of the loudest sounds in a classical orchestra. Many countries’ occupational health regulations restrict exposure to the horn’s high volume levels to a half-hour per day. Other studies testing musicians’ hearing found evidence of hearing loss in horn players.

Australian researchers used a Brisbane-based international meeting of French horn players to measure the hearing of all 142 in attendance. Researchers found that among those aged 40 or younger, between 18 and 33 percent experienced noise-induced hearing loss. About half of the horn players claimed they had noticed a loss in their hearing.

The study’s researchers attempted to find the cause behind the horn players’ hearing loss but failed to do so, because they couldn’t account for the nonmusical noise exposure that could affect hearing.

About one in five of the musicians claimed that they had used hearing protection like earplugs, but of those one in five, only 11 percent used the hearing protection consistently during performances.

A Swedish researcher recently published a study involving 22 professional musicians who wore devices to measure their sound exposure for two weeks. Only about half of the musicians were accurate when keeping track of the sounds that were loud enough to harm hearing.

The Australian researchers concluded that managing hearing risks for musicians presents a challenge but that it’s worth the effort.

According to nonprofit organization Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers, the size of an instrument does not directly correlate to its decibel level. For example, a piccolo can be just as loud as a bass drum or slide trombone, while violins can reach 103 decibels at peak volume, louder than many power tools.

Research shows that between 30 and 50 percent of musicians experience hearing problems, according to Noisy Planet. Musicians’ earplugs allow a person to hear all of the music but at a lower sound level. Aside from wearing ear plugs, musicians can do a myriad of things to protect their hearing.

Since sound travels in a straight line, the sound is louder when someone stands directly in front of or behind a speaker. Therefore, it helps when professional musicians stand to the side of a speaker or angle to speakers away from them. Live musicians also often take breaks between sets or during practice to give their ears a rest.

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