Being unable to enjoy music must be many readers’ worst nightmare.

However, experts agree that over time, loud music damages hearing. So how can music fans ensure they can enjoy what they love for many years to come?

RNID is the charity working to change the world for the UK’s 9 million people who are deaf or hard of hearing. RNID’s Don’t Lose the Music campaign aims to tell music lovers how and why to protect their ears.

Don’t Lose the Music has found that many young music lovers have already experienced the first signs of hearing loss. In a survey of 2,711 festival goers in 2008, 84% said they experienced tinnitus – dullness of hearing or ringing in the ears – after listening to loud music.

Orchestra pits as loud as a pneumatic drill

However, the problem isn’t limited to pop music and rock festivals. Any sound over 80 decibels – which, roughly speaking, is the level of background noise at which you need to raise your voice to be heard by someone two metres away – can damage hearing over time. According to The Times, volume levels in an orchestra pit can be "somewhere between a pneumatic drill and a jet plane taking off".

This is something that flute and piccolo player, William Morton, knows only too well. After 40 years playing in Covent Garden's Royal Opera House orchestra, he is a keen supporter of RNID, and certain that his hearing problems, and those of fellow musicians, were caused by loud orchestra pits.

Not just musicians

The problem isn’t restricted to people whose living is music. Last year, Don’t Lose the Music tested almost 250 MP3 players at eight UK cities – and over half of people surveyed are listening at volumes and for lengths of time that could be harmful to their hearing.

It’s also important to remember that while recent laws provide more protection for employees’ hearing, if you choose to listen to live or recorded music, the only person responsible for your ears is you.

How to stay safe

Don’t Lose the Music recommends simple steps such as keeping away from areas where the music is loudest, taking regular breaks in quieter areas, and wearing reusable ear plugs – which are designed for listening to music.

When listening to recorded music, remember again that damage occurs the longer and louder you listen – so keep the volume at a reasonable level and take regular breaks. Noise cancelling headphones or sound isolating earphones, which reduce levels of background noise so you don’t have to turn it up to experience the same volume, are also a good investment if you listen to music through headphones a lot.

If you ever experience dullness of hearing or ringing in the ears, make sure that you protect yourself better the next time you’re listening to music. RNID’s tinnitus talk boards have lots of advice for what can be a debilitating and frustrating condition – but remember that while classical music may soothe some people’s symptoms, listening too loud can make tinnitus worse. Some people also find that particular instruments exacerbate the condition.

Finally, if you’re worried that permanent damage has already been done, try RNID’s online or telephone hearing checks. Designed to help identify people who have hearing loss and encourage them to take action, the checks are quick, confidential and are the cost of a call.

For more information about music and hearing protection, visit or email the campaign.

Donna Tipping September 2009