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French horn players’ attitudes to hearing loss ‘generally poor’, says study

- 27 September 2013

A study into noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) in French horn players has concluded that, without any clear single predictor of hearing loss being suffered by players ‒ and indeed a ‘counter-intuitive’ prediction that suggested less hearing loss despite greater total exposure to music ‒ managing the hearing health of horn players ‘will be challenging’.

Playing the French horn can be bad for your hearing

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Working on the basis of existing evidence that French horn players are one of the most at-risk groups for NIHL, academics from the universities of Queensland and Sydney received 144 completed questionnaires from the 350 delegates of the 2010 annual conference of the International Horn Society in Brisbane.

Of these, 47% reported a perceived hearing loss, and 21% reported suffering from tinnitus.

Despite between 11.1% and 22.2% of the players suffering an age and gender-adjusted hearing loss typical of having been noise-induced, only 18% of horn players used hearing protection. Of those who do use protection, the authors claim, this protection often remains inadequate with 81% only protecting their ears ‘sometimes’ and 50% using only inferior generic, rather than bespoke, ear protection.

‘The attitudes and habits of this study’s participants towards hearing protection were generally poor,’ the report states.

‘More promisingly, the 51% of all participants reporting using hearing protection presented “no problem,” “some mild problems,” or “difficulties (but possible)” in their horn playing’.

Equally, it is clear that many of the players who took part do indeed see significant problems with using ear protection while playing.

Though the authors conclude that ‘continued efforts to better manage the hearing health of horn players is warranted, particularly as any hearing loss will affect a horn player’s ability to perform and therefore his or her livelihood’, it seems that many players are prepared to risk some degree of hearing loss for the sake of their playing. Others, it is clear, are taking some steps to manage their exposure to noise.

Possible explanations offered for the counterintuitive finding of lesser hearing loss with greater total exposure to music include the possibility of ‘higher levels of sound having a “toughening” effect on the hearing organ’.

Ian O’Brien, a professional horn player and co-author of the latest research, said: ‘Our findings reinforce the need to educate horn players about the need to protect hearing.’

Read the full report here.

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