Real or Imaginary – Live Music at Concerts Hurts Your Hearing

If you’ve previously attended a modern rock concert and found yourself thinking, “That music is just too darned loud,” it does not necessarily indicate that you’re getting old. It could imply that your body is attempting warn you – that you’re in a place that could harm your ability to hear. If later, after you have left the concert, and for the subsequent few days you have had a ringing in your ears (tinnitus) or had difficulty hearing as well as usual, you may have experienced NIHL – noise induced hearing loss.

Noise induced hearing loss can happen even after a single exposure to very loud concert music, because the high decibel noises damage tiny hair cells in the interior of the ear that receive auditory signals and interpret them as sounds. In most cases, the noise-induced hearing loss resulting from a single exposure to loud noise or music is temporary, and should go away within a few days. But recurring exposure to very loud noise can cause the damage to become permanent and lead to tinnitus that never goes away or in a serious loss of hearing.

A pair of factors determine how much harm is done to hearing by exposure to very loud sounds – exactly how loud the sounds are, and the amount of time you are in contact with them. Sound levels are measured on the decibel scale, which is logarithmic and thus not very intuitive; an increase of 10 decibels on the scale means that the noise at the higher rating is twice as loud. So the sound of busy urban traffic (85 decibels) isn’t just a little bit louder than the sound of normal speech (65 decibels), it’s 4 times louder. A rock concert, at which the sound level is commonly in the range of 115 decibels, is ten times louder than ordinary speech. In addition to precisely how loud the music is, the second factor that impacts how much damage is done is how long you’re in contact with it, the permissible exposure time. Loss of hearing can occur from coming in contact with sound at 85 decibels after only 8 hours. At 115 decibels the permissible exposure time before you face the possibility of hearing loss is under one minute. Therefore rock concerts are potentially dangerous, since the sound levels at some of them have been measured at over 140 decibels.

It has been estimated that up to fifty million Americans will suffer hearing loss as a result of exposure to loud music – either at live shows or over headsets by the year 2050. Bearing this in mind, many concert promoters and venues have started offering sound-baffling earplugs to concertgoers for a small charge. One well known British rock band even collaborated with an earplug supplier to offer them totally free to everyone attending its concerts. Signs are starting to crop up at music venues saying, “Earplugs are sexy!” Earplugs may, in reality, not be particularly sexy, but they might just save your hearing.

We can help to provide you with a pair. If a noisy rock concert is in your near future, we strongly suggest that you think about wearing a good pair.

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Catherine Whittington

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