All musicians should own a pair of customized earplugs to protect their hearing against loud noise. This recommendation applies even to adults who have a passion for piano music and study the piano but currently experience no hearing difficulties. For all musicians—pianists, singers, and flutists, professional and amateur alike—the sense that they rely on the most to create music, their hearing, ought to be protected.
As human beings, coming to terms with the dangers of noise exposure is difficult because we instinctively enjoy noise’s energizing and even comforting qualities. The thumping bass and urgent treble of music in an exercise class urges us to burn. The communal, deafening roar at a soccer stadium reassures us that we are part of a group. The crescendo of the symphony in the finale of Beethoven’s Fifth exhilarates us. We tell ourselves that the noise we experience every day, pop music blaring in the mall, or a train or subway car screeching into the station, steel wheels grinding against the track, is short-lived, not sufficiently prolonged to affect our hearing.
In fact, excessive noise, ubiquitous in our society, insidiously eats away at our hearing, sometimes not showing its effects for decades, even for people who currently experience no hearing loss. The Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) helped sensitize me to the dangers of noise. As a board member, I governed not only HHF’s research efforts to cure hearing loss, but also our hearing loss prevention program.
With my newfound knowledge, I embarked upon a personal program of hearing protection: I purchased a pair of silicone musicians’ earplugs, designed to lower noise without creating distorted or smothered sounds—many musicians wear them while rehearsing. Although a snug fit—the earplugs are customized to prevent harmful noise from seeping into my ear canal—they are surprisingly comfortable. In fact, I am wearing them right now as I write this post on the groaning, clanking train barreling into New York City.
My earplugs also contain filters for different levels of noise protection. I purchased two sets of filters, one that dampens noise by nine decibels, which I tend to wear most often, and a second that blocks all sound, useful for very harmful environments such as sports stadiums, where noise levels can crescendo to greater than 125 decibels, causing in some cases immediate hearing loss.
Now, before I walk into any loud environment, I remove my hearing aids, store them in a padded pouch, and slip in my earplugs. I carry the padded pouch and the earplugs in my purse at all times, because I can’t always anticipate when I will encounter loud noise. At first my process felt clunky and time consuming, but now has become an automatic routine.
People with hearing loss in particular need to understand that noise protection is different from amplification. Amplification, in other words making sounds louder and more discernable, whether from hearing aids or personal hearing devices, is crucial for people with hearing loss to be able to function in society. Yet noise protection is just as important. Hence my recommendation that people with hearing loss not only purchase hearing aids but also invest in a pair of customized earplugs.
In my experience, some audiologists are more attuned to noise protection than others. As much as I rely on my current audiologist, I felt she was not sufficiently concerned with noise protection. I researched the topic on my own and found Dr. Julie Glick, a Sensaphonics Gold partner based in New York City. Dr. Glick took impressions of my ear canals and mailed me the earplugs within a few weeks.
“Turn Down the Noise,” trumpets HHF’s Hearing Health magazine summer issue cover, a recommended read for musicians who want to understand the dangers of excessive noise in greater depth. Whether you currently have no hearing loss or wear hearing aids, protect your ability to transform notes on a page into music. Invest in a pair of musicians’ earplugs and wear them.