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Music and Musician Earplugs: Temporary Effects of Music Exposure While Wearing Hearing Protectors

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Recreational music exposure is a potential risk factor for noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Standard hearing protectors can be worn to reduce the exposure level, but their typical attenuation characteristics might distort the music's spectrum and hence reduce the listening quality. Therefore, new augmented hearing protectors have been designed with modified attenuation characteristics to combine hearing protection and listening comfort. This study evaluates temporary effects on cochlear status after music exposure. During exposure, five different types of commercially available hearing protectors are worn, all commonly used during leisure time music exposure. Four of them are augmented premolded earplugs, the fifth type is an inexpensive standard earplug frequently distributed by music events’ organization. During five different test sessions, participants have worn one particular protector while listening to popular music. Distortion Product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAEs) have been measured directly before and after music exposure. The decline in DPOAE response before and after noise exposure appears to be significantly different for the different types of hearing protectors, with two types of musician earplug showing a more systematic decline than the two other types and the standard earplug. This decrease is small compared to clinically relevant DPOAE variation. However, the exposure itself was also limited (half an hour) and the participants were explicitly instructed to use hearing protectors. Hence, the fact that even in those controlled conditions systematic effects on cochlear status are measurable warrants further research about protection achieved in real exposure conditions.

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