Good hearing is necessary for playing guitar. That’s why it’s important to take care of it. Especially if you’re performing live.
You may wonder if playing guitar can cause a hearing loss, or tinnitus. I took my time to investigate this common issue. Does playing guitar affects your hearing in a bad way?
Guitar can cause both hearing loss and tinnitus. However, it depends on many factors. It usually hits professional musicians that don’t use/wear any protection. That’s because they perform live, with loud sounds around. If you’re just a regular guitarist that plays in his room, you don’t have to worry. Usually very loud noise causes hearing issues over time, in most cases.
It is known that noise can induce hearing loss. Being subjected to noise over time can seriously damage your hearing. The question is, is guitar loud enough to cause hearing loss? Or tinnitus?
Well, it depends. Every individual is unique. There’s no rule. But, generally speaking, guitars, whether acoustic or electric, are not that loud to cause hearing loss.
However, if you tour regularly to play live gigs, you’re certainly subjected to some loud noise every time you perform.
If not protected, you’ll almost certainly develop some kind of a hearing issue. A lot of musicians through history damaged their own hearing, due to performing without using ear protection plugs.
What Do Studies Show?
Is there some scientific confirmation about this issue? I’ve found one.
National Center for Biotechnology Information published a scientific study about noise induced hearing loss among professional musicians.
In this cross-sectional study, 125 musicians with at least five years of work experience were examined. They all underwent clinical and audiometric examinations.
Through interviews, various data, complaints and information were collected.
Here’s the conclusion of the study.
Audiometric notch in either one or both ears and bilateral hearing loss were present in respectively 42.4% and 19.2% of the participants. The history of tinnitus after performance and ear pain during performance was reported by 64 (51%) and 35 (28%) individuals, respectively. Less than 2% of the participants used hearing protection devices.
Long-term exposure to loud sounds puts musicians at risk of hearing loss. However, due to their inadequate knowledge, most musicians never use protective devices to prevent damage to their auditory system.Source: Noise-Induced hearing loss among professional musicians – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5388610/
You can check the full study, here. (If you’re interested in how exactly the study investigated this issue.)
As you can see, the main thing that causes hearing issues or tinnitus is lack of using any protective devices, meant to prevent damage to the auditory system.
If You Have Tinnitus, It Doesn’t Mean You Have Hearing Loss
Sometimes, people relate tinnitus with hearing loss. Those are different things.
Tinnitus (pronounced ti-ni-tis), or ringing in the ears, is the sensation of hearing ringing, buzzing, hissing, chirping, whistling, or other sounds. The noise can be intermittent or continuous, and can vary in loudness.Source: WebMD – https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/understanding-tinnitus-basics
Majority of people with tinnitus have perfectly fine hearing. In most cases, tinnitus is like a minor annoying issue.
Can Guitar Make Tinnitus Worse?
Playing guitar, for most cases, cannot make your tinnitus worse. That’s simply because there are a lot of sources of noise you experience every day. Guitar is not louder than, for example, traffic.
And yet, most of us participate in traffic every day.
However, tinnitus depends on an individual. Therefore, there’s no exact, one word, answer to this question.
If you experience severe tinnitus symptoms, you should maybe take a break from playing a guitar for some period of time.
If you notice that playing guitar doesn’t significantly affects your tinnitus, you can safely continue to play without any fear.
Tinnitus issues are rarely something more than a minor inconvenience. In most cases, tinnitus symptoms show up only from time to time.
How To Protect Your Hearing When You Play?
If you don’t have any hearing issues, but nevertheless, are afraid of having them, trust me; you’re not the only one. Back in the day, I was worried about my hearing when I performed twice a week in a local bar.
Regular, frequent, performances can, in fact, damage your hearing badly. The crucial thing is to wear protection.
How can one protect his hearing while playing loud guitar? Well, it’s obvious. You just have to use ear plugs. Ear plugs can be annoying at first, but eventually you’ll get used to them completely.
Also, there are few additional tips you can comply to in order to protect your hearing.
Exercise Without an Amp
This may sound silly, but it makes sense. When you practice in your room, try not to turn the amp on every time.
In fact, often it’s not necessary to have your amp turned on. Especially when you’re practicing something new on your guitar. It makes no sense to crank up the volume on your amp when you don’t even know how to play the thing your exercising.
Therefore, playing guitar plugged in an amp all of the times is completely necessary.
Stay Away From Headphones
Headphones are not healthy. You may like using them, but that doesn’t change this simple fact.
Stay away from headphones as much as possible. Do you know the feeling of ringing in your ears after you take headphones off? Well, that ringing can easily develop in tinnitus, if you don’t take care of it.
Once you throw away your headphones, you’ll realize you don’t need them, anyway. They can also cause clogging of your ears. At least that’s what headphones done to my ears several times.
Using headphones connected to an amp while you’re playing guitar is especially harmful. What’s good in playing guitar with the sound blasting directly in your ears, anyway?
What If You Already Have Damaged Hearing?
We talked about how to protect yourself from hearing loss and hearing issues, in general. But what if you have already developed hearing loss, or any related hearing issue?
Does this mean you cannot play your guitar anymore? Well, again, it depends on individual. If you suffer from severe hearing loss, or tinnitus, then, I’m afraid you shouldn’t play guitar.
Lot of people with damaged hearing report the struggle they go through each time they start to jam with guitar. That’s a pity, but there’s not much you can do about it.
You can play electric guitar without an amp, though. Or acoustic one, but with ear plugs on.
I’d suggest only one thing. To live somewhere out of the city, in very quiet area, for a few years. That way only, you may recover your hearing. But unfortunately, even that cannot guarantee the recovery.
What Else Does Guitar Cause?
If you’re interested, you can check out few somewhat related articles from this site.
- Can Electric Guitars Cause Cancer?
- Can Playing Guitar Change Your Fingerprints?
- Does Playing Guitar Make Your Fingers Longer?
I hope this article gave you some valuable information about this issue. If it helped you in any way, I’m more than happy about it.
It is always a pleasure helping fellow guitar brothers, all over the world.
Don’t forget to check other interesting articles about various guitar topics and issues!
Cheers, and rock on!