Musicians Often Struggle with Tinnitus

Guitarist suffering from Tinnitus.

For a wide variety of weird but culturally consistent reasons, we tend to idolize musicians and covet the music they produce. In part, that’s because music has the ability to affect and transform us down to our emotional cores.

But it’s also because musicians are cool. (Not cooler than writers, of course… writers are the coolest. Okay, I’m not even fooling myself here.)

So when we stop to consider that musicians often struggle with tinnitus, we might find ourselves surprised in two ways: First, musicians are people too (surprise!), and second, musicians often have an especially disconcerting relationship with tinnitus (I guess that one’s not all that shocking).

Why do musicians develop tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a condition in which you hear a consistent or constant ringing in your ears (though, it’s not always a ringing–sometimes it’s a buzzing or a tone because nature likes to mix it up).

So, yeah, musicians will sometimes develop tinnitus. But it’s not like musicians develop tinnitus at a much greater rate than anyone else in the general population. Tinnitus just happens to be an exceptionally common ailment (affecting something like 50 million people in the United States alone, and it’s even more common in Canada).

That said, there are some risk factors for tinnitus that musicians are exposed to on a more regular basis:

  • Loud noise: This is the single greatest risk factor for developing tinnitus. Unfortunately, musicians are constantly exposed to high-intensity noise; that’s why it’s essential that musicians wear hearing protection when possible.
  • Stress: We all experience stress. But musicians tend to have crazy schedules–schedules that can wear down your immune system and lead to issues such as ear infections (these ear infections can, you guessed it, cause tinnitus).
  • Diet: Any musician that lives on the road probably does not have the world’s greatest diet (we envision a lot of fast food and diners). While the research isn’t conclusive, there’s evidence that your blood pressure affects tinnitus. So if you have a diet that raises your blood pressure, this can be a contributing factor.

When you depend on your hearing

What sets musicians apart is not necessarily the rate at which they develop tinnitus but rather in how they cope with an ailment of the ear. Musicians, after all, depend on their sense of hearing for their livelihoods and for artistic expression. For many musicians, their very identities are tied up with and dependent on their ability to hear.

Treatments for tinnitus

A constant buzzing you can’t ignore can be quite scary to someone who needs to hear to perform. For a musician, in particular, that’s your whole livelihood flashing before your eyes (flashing before your ears, maybe). Irish musician Isobel Anderson had a particularly harrowing experience with tinnitus. Black Eyed Peas singer, on the other hand, talks about how music is the only thing that keeps his tinnitus at bay.

From Liam Gallagher to Chris Martin (I’m cool, so I didn’t have to Google any of these named musicians, I swear), every musician will have a different way of coping with tinnitus. The important thing is that there are successful and effective treatments for tinnitus. It’s not the end of the road (or even the highway to the danger zone) as long as you’re talking to a hearing professional.

For both musicians and us common folk, treatments for tinnitus might involve:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy designed to help you reframe the way you think about and respond to your tinnitus.
  • Medications that may help treat the symptoms or causes of tinnitus.
  • Using a hearing aid to help you manage your tinnitus.
  • Sound therapy that can help you tune out the ringing associated with your tinnitus.

What can we learn from musicians?

It might sound like a cliche, but we can learn a lot from musicians. Tinnitus is something that affects them in a profound, personal, and professional way.

But there are treatments and remedies that can diminish the damaging, long-term impact of tinnitus. Musicians often struggle with tinnitus, yes, but it gets so much easier once they find the kind of treatment that can help them manage their symptoms and keep their lives dancing along (dancing because music… get it? See, writers are cool). And that’s a lesson we can all take to heart.


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