Despite a high level of sound exposure and a fairly large selection of earplugs available, musicians have often been reported to use personal hearing protectors only seldom. For better hearing conservation, it is important to identify and eliminate the causes for the low motivation to use hearing protection. We explored the usage rate of custom-molded musician's earplugs (ER-15) among 15 symphony orchestra musicians with a questionnaire, and measured the attenuation properties of their earplugs with a Real-Ear Attenuation at Threshold (REAT) procedure in a sound field. Earplug use was found to be low, and the musicians reported that earplugs hampered listening to their own and their colleagues' playing; earplugs affected either timbre or dynamics, or both. Additionally, several reasons related to discomfort of use were itemized, but the musicians who consistently used their earplugs did so in spite of problems with use. The REAT values obtained in sound field were relatively close to the manufacturer's nominal specifications, being 13.7 dB, on average. In the frequency range studied (0.125-8 kHz), individual variation in REAT was, however, up to 15 dB across the measured frequencies. Fluctuation in attenuation might be related to low use of hearing protectors, and REAT measured at fixed center frequencies may be too robust a method to uncover it. We therefore tested 10 additional subjects to find out whether a sweeping signal used in Bksy audiometry would bring more detailed information on earplug attenuation. Mean attenuation was found to be somewhat closer to the nominal attenuation of the ER-9 and ER-15 earplugs up to about 1 kHz, whereas REAT measurements in sound field revealed more even attenuation at frequencies between 1 and 6 kHz. No significant association was found between earplug attenuation properties and earplug use. It was concluded that support and determination to get accustomed to hearing protector use are important factors in hearing conservation.
- Bksy audiometry
- hearing conservation