Tinnitus and Hyperacusis, two professional music workers’ diseases

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Tinnitus and Hyperacusis can arise together very often (40% of cases), while in other cases they come up as isolated. Being not serious, they have a major impact on sufferers, on their habits and in their close environment, family, friends and job colleagues. Its origin can be complex and diverse, and cannot clearly relate to one single triggering factor. However, Tinnitus and Hyperacusis are the accompanists of lots of musical professionals, not only musicians, but also sound technicians and audio engineers, DJ and actors. Just because of his job, any show business professional is exposed to this risk, with higher prevalence than average population. It occurs quite often that some of these do not make it public. The psychological implications are very important and that tend to turn sufferers away and not to disclose it, a way to forget. Involved in no return and incurable processes, the affected people very often are in need of psychological or psychiatric help and suicide is not strange.

tinnitus_ear_ringingUnderstanding the special problem associated with prevention of these diseases takes our focus onto almost non-existing perception of risk found among professionals and their close environment. First, most people are not risk sensitive because the risk is not universal, and second, because in most cases these diseases develop only after many years of continuous exposure. It is something not immediate, so it is not scented as circumstantial. In its practical impact, many companies act as if there was not any kind of risk, they do not take risk into consideration.

Phil CollinsNevertheless true that renowned musicians like Bono, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Cher y Neil Young, after continuous exposure to amplified acoustic pressure of music loudspeakers in stages, rehearsal rooms and recording studios, have developed tinnitus in some mild or stronger degree. Drummers Lars Ulrich (Metallic) and Phil Collins had had to change their musical activity, either using special acoustic protections or, in the case of Collins, almost quitting the stage. A complete musical page revealed not so nice and remained unknown to fans. What happened in all cases was that by the time the problem became known, it was too late to act.

In Spain, there must be around 1.8 million cases of tinnitus sufferers; we can suppose Hyperacusis affect a 40% of them. In one-fifth (360,000) among these cases, the disease exhibits completely its worse disabling development. The sound perception is of a hampering intense loudness, preventing any structured activity, with an important damage to sensorial perception and social relationship. Obviously not everyone affected are musicians or stage professionals, these diseases affect the whole population and there are other different groups of risk.

Risk prevention consists basically of the use of acoustic or sound limiters, acoustic pressure control gadgets not to surpass a certain decibel control threshold. The use of these gadgets was satisfactory in most of the concerts and dance halls, clubs and party halls. Professional sound technicians know them perfectly. Nevertheless, when we hold shows in mobile stages, everything turns wrong. Especially in summer, shows like local holiday celebration, either indoor or outdoor invade all geographic points, reaching the most recondite towns.

Also celebrated in acoustically very poor conditions are Concerts, holiday parties, mobile disco clubs and others, even with complete lack of acoustic correction: sports centers, local theaters and association´s premises and so on. The lack of a proper decibel controls allow music to rave out of loudspeakers intensely, in a complete free will. Most of the time, a living misconception of sound’s responsible is to blame, some feel that music is all about “the more you crank up your tune”, the deeper the emotion. Nothing happens, at least, in a short term nothing happens.

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The risk prevention faces to difficult coordinates because of time and place of events, even more  after the local council´s authorities have adjusted the music bids to lower (much lower values), making it easier for anybody to go and spin some tunes.  Events are sporadic, and usually held out of labor hours, a lot during the holyday period, and the companies performing shows are always on tours, freelance, sometimes very young people aiming a few extra weekend pennies. Of course, the risk affects equally both the professionals and the audience attending the event, though the professional bears much more hours of exposure.

Though very important, Tinnitus and Hyperacusis are very poor known phenomena, and receive less social attention than deserved. Information on its characteristics, etiology, treatment and prophylaxis circulates only in very specialized ambient and media, or in sufferers groups or associations.  The public is practically unaware.

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