PROFESSIONAL FRENCH HORN PLAYERS IN DANGER OF DEVELOPING NOISE-INDUCED HEARING LOSS
New study provides further evidence that horn players are at risk of being exposed to potentially harmful sound levels in their working environments
September 24, 2013 Professional French horn players may need to seriously consider adopting effective strategies to prevent noise induced hearing loss (NIHL). A new study published online in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene (JOEH) found further evidence that French horn players are one of the most at-risk groups of developing NIHL among professional orchestral musicians.
"Using both conservative and lenient criteria for hearing loss and correcting for age, we found that between 11 percent and 22 percent of the participants showed some form of hearing loss typical of NIHL," said study investigator Ian O'Brien, MPhil, MAudSA, CCP, a doctoral degree candidate at the University of Sydney and a professional French horn player. "Looking at those aged 40 years or younger and also correcting for age, the number of horn players with an apparent hearing loss rose to between 17 percent and 33 percent."
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Queensland and the University of Sydney at the 2010 annual gathering of the International Horn Society in Brisbane, Australia, examined the hearing of 144 French horn players. The investigators performed audiometric assessments and measured sound levels and hearing thresholds to determine if the horn players were at risk of harmful sound exposure.
O'Brien and his colleagues also administered a questionnaire to investigate the horn players' safety practices and attitudes about hearing conservation.
"We were surprised to find that only 18 percent of participants reported using any form of hearing protection," said lead investigator Wayne Wilson, PhD, MAudSA, CCP, a senior lecturer in audiology at the University of Queensland. "Even within that 18 percent, the use of hearing protection appears to be inadequate with 81 percent of these participants reporting their frequency of use as 'sometimes' and 50 percent reporting they use generic, foam or other inferior forms of protection."
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), when individuals are exposed to loud noise over a long period of time, symptoms of NIHL will increase gradually. The NIDCD recommends preventing NIHL by regularly using hearing protectors such as earplugs or earmuffs. Designed specifically for musicians such as French horn players, these devices are commercially available.
"Our findings also reinforce the need to educate horn players, their mentors and audiologists about the need to protect hearing and how best to achieve this while still enabling musicians to play to the highest level," said O'Brien. "Even mild hearing loss can result in difficulties discriminating pitch, abnormal loudness growth and tinnitus, all of which can affect a musician's ability to perform, subsequently jeopardizing his or her livelihood."
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there have been nearly 125,000 cases of permanent hearing loss in workers since 2004. In addition to hearing loss, exposure to high levels of noise can result in physical and psychological stress, reduced productivity, poor communication, and accidents and injuries caused by a worker's inability to hear warning signals.
According to Torey Nalbone, PhD, CIH, associate professor at the University of Tyler, Texas, Vice Chair of ACGIH® and an AIHA noise exposure expert, "Traditionally, we have examined rock and roll artists and their hearing loss, but few think of the hearing loss experienced by symphonic orchestra players. The presence of loss of hearing acuity in the ranges documented in this study demonstrates that orchestral musicians should take a more active role in conserving their hearing."
He adds, "The appropriate use of hearing protection devices can and will reduce the incidence of NIHL. This could be an important attitude and habit to change for these horn players and others in an orchestral setting, especially when they depend on their hearing for a major portion of their success during performances."
Field researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Western States Office (WSO) and the Division of Applied Research and Technology (DART) collected 111 personal breathing zone samples at 11 sites in five states over a 15-month period to evaluate exposures to respirable crystalline silica during hydraulic fracturing. Respirable silica is the portion of crystalline silica that is small enough to enter the gas-exchange regions of the lungs if inhaled and includes particles with aerodynamic diameters less than approximately 10 micrometers (μm).
"Certain work in this industry requires employees to be in areas where respirable silica levels may exceed defined occupational exposure limits like the OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit or the NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limits (RELs)," said Michael Breitenstein, with the NIOSH DART in Cincinnati, Ohio. "However, our study found that in some cases full shift personal breathing zone exposures exceeded 10 times the REL."
Occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica are associated with the development of silicosis, lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis, and other respiratory diseases. These exposures may also be related to the development of autoimmune disorders, chronic renal disease, and other adverse health effects.
"Although half-mask, air-purifying respirators are most commonly used at hydraulic fracturing sites, due to the magnitude of the silica concentrations measured, half-masks might not be sufficiently protective," said Eric J. Esswein of the NIOSH WSO in Denver, Colo. "In some cases, silica concentrations exceeded the maximum use concentration for that type of respirator."
According to NIOSH, the risks of silica exposures for workers exposed at or above the REL (0.05 mg/m3) may be minimized by substituting less hazardous materials and using engineering controls to limit exposures. In cases when engineering controls are not sufficient to keep exposures below the REL, NIOSH recommends using appropriate respiratory protection, and making medical examinations available to exposed workers.
Click here to view the full study from the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene (JOEH) and learn more about how to protect oneself from noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
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