Study on the Impact of Tinnitus on Professional Musicians to Begin in December 2019

On 2 October 2019, the British Tinnitus Association (BTA) announced a new partnership with Help Musicians UK (HMUK), after the musicians’ charity was handed a £45,764 grant to launch a ‘pioneering’ investigation into the effects, management and prevention of tinnitus experienced by musicians and music industry professionals in the UK.

The study is due to start in December 2019.

According to BTA, this is a relationship which has not been ‘rigorously researched’.[1]

Describing the affiliation between tinnitus and professional musicians as ‘as yet uncharted territory’, BTA Chief Executive, David Stockdale, revealed that:

‘BTA researchers will have access to a pool of HMUK-supported musicians and will collect quantitative and qualitative data, allowing for more in-depth insights than have ever been captured before. Considering everything from genre and frequency of performance, to instrument and the position it’s played in, the findings will pave the way for the broadest understanding of the effects of tinnitus within the UK music sector yet and open doors for effective, targeted support’.

Dr. Georgie Burns-O’Connell, Research Officer at BTA, considers that:

‘The project has the potential to have worldwide influence in establishing an understanding of the impact of tinnitus on musicians. This will ultimately lead to a better understanding, stronger messaging around prevention and management and improved services for musicians living with tinnitus’.[2]

It is anticipated that study findings will be published in August 2020.

Based on surveys of 692 musicians, conducted by HMUK in 2015, 40.5% of respondents reported living with hearing problems, 75% of whom reported experiencing tinnitus.[3]

This connection is also confirmed by the academic literature, where researchers have observed increased incidence of hearing loss and tinnitus among symphony orchestra musicians,[4] pop, jazz and rock musicians,[5] academic music students,[6] club employees[7] and disc jockeys.[8]

Tinnitus is a subjective condition, commonly alleged in conjunction with noise-induced hearing loss. The dominant symptom in tinnitus sufferers is the sensation of hearing a sound, e.g. ringing, whooshing, humming, buzzing, etc., in the absence of any external sound.[9]

Noise-induced tinnitus (the most common tinnitus type) is perceived when the inner ear has been impaired.

Cochlear hair cell damage prevents the transmission of electrical signals via the auditory (vestibulocochlear) nerve. When the brain actively ‘seeks out’ failed transmissions, electrical signals can become ‘over-represented’ and this over-representation resembles tinnitus.[10]

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[Source: Wikimedia Commons – Zina Deretsky (23 October 2006): ‘Acoustic radiation’]

Professional musicians can often be exposed to excessive noise levels, putting them at ‘increased risk of hearing damage’, explained HMUK’s Head of Health and Welfare, Joe Hastings.

Looking at the wider consequences of the BTA research project, it is important to reiterate the Court of Appeal judgment in Goldscheider v The Royal Opera House Covent Garden Foundation [2019] EWCA Civ 711, which was reported in edition 271 of BC Disease News (here).

This case was significant, not only because it confirmed that the phenomenon known as ‘acoustic shock’ (also linked with tinnitus) was not limited to ‘white noise’ exposure, common among call centre workers, but also because it allowed an orchestral violist to sue his employer for personal injuries caused by instrumental noise exposure that was not ‘an unwanted secondary by-product of a primary process but the product itself’.

Further, that, had the employer complied with its duty of care to protect the claimant’s health and safety in the course of the rehearsal, in which the injurious exposure took place, there was no evidence to suggest that there would have been ‘an unacceptable reduction (or indeed any reduction at all) in the artistic standards of the Ring Cycle when it came to be performed in public’.

Should Goldscheider remain an unchallenged leading authority in this area, it is possible that more ‘acoustic shock’ and NIHL (with or without tinnitus) claims may be advanced by professional musicians (and other entertainment-based professionals). If so, BTA’s research could provide meaningful insight into the prevalence of tinnitus in the music industry, the existence and extent of which can have a profound effect on the value of occupational deafness claims.

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[1] Nic Wray, ‘Investigating the impact of tinnitus on professional musicians’ (2 October 2019 British Tinnitus Association) <https://www.tinnitus.org.uk/blog/investigating-the-impact-of-tinnitus-on-professional-musicians> accessed 8 October 2019.

[2] British Tinnitus Association, ‘Charities team up to investigate the impact of tinnitus on professional musicians’ (2 October 2019 Pressat) <https://pressat.co.uk/releases/charities-team-up-to-investigate-the-impact-of-tinnitus-on-professional-musicians-e668f7acf928ba5912a2ec3ff44d58a5/> accessed 8 October 2019.

[3] MUSICIANS’ HEARING SURVEY (2015 Help Musicians UK) <https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/assets/files/help_musicians_uk_hearing_survey_june_2015.pdf> accessed 10 October 2019.

[4] Jesper Hvass Schmidt et al., Tinnitus Severity Is Related to the Sound Exposure of Symphony Orchestra Musicians Independently of Hearing Impairment. Ear Hear. 2019 Jan-Feb; 40(1): 88–97. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6319581/pdf/aud-40-088.pdf> accessed 8 October 2019.

Gembris et al., Health problems of orchestral musicians from a life-span perspective: Results of a large-scale study. Music & Science January 29, 2018; Volume 1 <https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2059204317739801> accessed 11 October 2019.

Schink T et al., Incidence and relative risk of hearing disorders in professional musicians

Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2014;71:472-476.

<https://oem.bmj.com/content/oemed/71/7/472.full.pdf> accessed 8 October 2019.

Jansen, E.J., et al., Noise induced hearing loss and other hearing complaints among musicians of symphony orchestras. Int Arch Occup Environ Health, 2009. 82(2): p. 153-64. <https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs00420-008-0317-1.pdf> accessed 8 October 2019.

[5] Halevi-Katz D.T. et al., Exposure to music and noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) among professional pop/rock/jazz musicians. Noise Health. 2015 May-Jun; 17(76): 158–164. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4918652/?report=reader> accessed 9 October 2019.

Kahari, K., et al., Assessment of hearing and hearing disorders in rock/jazz musicians. International Journal of Audiology, 2003. 42(5): p. 279-288. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12916701> accessed 8 October 2019. 

[6] Hagberg, M., et al., Incidence of tinnitus, impaired hearing and musculoskeletal disorders among students enroled in academic music education - A retrospective cohort study. International archives of occupational and environmental health, 2005. 78(7): p. 575-583. <https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00420-005-0621-y> accessed 8 October 2019.

[7] Gunderson, E., et al., Risks of Developing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Employees of Urban Music Clubs. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 1997. 31(1): p. 75-79. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8986257> accessed 8 October 2019.

[8] Bray, A., et al., Noise induced hearing loss in dance music disc jockeys and an examination of sound levels in nightclubs. Journal of Laryngology and Otology, 2004. 118(2): p. 123-128. <https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-laryngology-and-otology/article/noise-induced-hearing-loss-in-dance-music-disc-jockeys-and-an-examination-of-sound-levels-in-nightclubs/573BAE71AFF87AB06570E5991E5AC6CA> accessed 8 October 2019.

[9] ‘All about tinnitus’ (British Tinnitus Association) <https://www.tinnitus.org.uk/all-about-tinnitus> accessed 8 October 2019.

[10] ‘Tinnitus’ (NHS Direct Wales) <https://www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk/Encyclopaedia/t/article/tinnitus/> accessed 26 June 2019.