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Hearing in various age groups of orchestral musicians and progression of hearing loss with increased number of years of music exposure : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand
In Orchestra musicians hearing plays a very important role, and slight alterations in their hearing will have a significant impact on their performance ability as musicians. Although the effect of orchestra music on hearing is documented, existing researches have several drawbacks, and in most studies measurement of musical sound exposure is not linked to audiological test results. Some variables that may have a significant influence on resulting hearing loss are not taken into consideration. The literature review shows a confusing picture, and some studies identify high-frequency notches suggestive of noise induced threshold shift while others suggest musicians’ hearing levels are not significantly different from a non-exposed population. There are strict legal requirements for the daily noise exposure a worker can receive in workplace but nothing to regulate non-occupational noise and music exposure.
This research work sets out to study the effects of playing in an orchestra on various age groups of musicians, to identify important variables that may potentially contribute to resulting hearing loss, and how playing in an orchestra or a band affects children in particular. In this study 37 out of 61 adult musicians (61%), 19 out of 85 youth musicians (22%) and six out of 37 children musicians (16%) were found to have a hearing loss. The sound exposure measurements confirm that there is an increased risk for hearing loss of all ages and the majority of musicians are also exposed to high impulse noise with the peak level of above 140dB. There is a broad individual difference in sensitivity and vulnerability. It is often difficult to estimate total sound exposure for every musician. Individual susceptibility seems to depend on known and unknown factors and interaction between intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Personal ear protection devices are seldom used among the musicians. Hence this study stresses the importance of an individualised hearing conservation programme that includes identifying all potential variables/factors that may increase the risk.
This thesis addresses the development of hearing loss in orchestra musicians, audio logical findings among players of different musical instruments, and methods of effective hearing conservation programmes for preventing hearing loss in musicians.