People working in the music industry are nearly twice as likely to develop tinnitus as people working in quieter occupations, according to a new study led by researchers at The University of Manchester.

The study, published in Trends in Hearing, analysed 23,000 people from the UK Biobank, an online database of medical and lifestyle records of half a million Britons.

The researchers compared levels of hearing difficulties and tinnitus in people working in noisy ‘high-risk’ construction, agricultural and music industries compared to people working in finance, a quiet ‘low-risk’ industry.

High-profile musicians who have tinnitus continues include our Plug'em Ambassador Mark Ronson, Coldplay's Chris Martin, Ozzy Osbourne and Noel and Liam Gallagher.

However, classical music players are at risk too: earlier this year, the Royal Opera House lost its appeal over the life-changing hearing damage caused to a viola player at rehearsals of Wagner's Die Walkure.

Dr Sam Couth, who is based at the University’s Centre for Audiology and Deafness, said:

Our research shows that people working in the music industry are at considerable risk of developing tinnitus, and this risk is largely due to exposure to loud noise.

Hearing protection should be worn when noise levels exceed 85 decibels, which is roughly equivalent to the noise produced by a passing diesel truck. The length of safe noise exposure is reduced by half for every 3 decibels increase in noise intensity. That equates to 4 hours of daily exposure for 88 decibels of noise, 2 hours for 91 decibels, and so on.

“Most amplified concerts exceed 100 decibels, meaning that musicians shouldn’t be exposed to that level of noise for more than 15 minutes without proper hearing protection,” added Dr Couth.

“Changes to legislation have increased hearing protection use and reduced levels of hearing problems in the construction industry, but the music industry lags behind.

“We know from previous research that only 6% of musicians consistently wear hearing protection.

“Part of our work is to try to understand why so few musicians use hearing protection, and to devise different ways to encourage them to change their behaviour.

“Musicians should wear earplugs designed specifically for listening to music so that the quality of the sound remains high, whilst the risk of hearing damage is reduced.”

The research team found that health and lifestyle factors had relatively little impact on tinnitus and hearing difficulties. Noise exposure was by far the biggest risk.

We will be starting a research project next month, in partnership with Help Musicians UK to look into the impact of tinnitus in musicians. 

Photo by Jens Thekkeveettil on Unsplash