If you’ve previously attended a modern day rock concert and found yourself thinking, “That music is way too darned loud,” it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting old. It could mean that your body is trying to tell you something – that you’re in a situation that could harm your ability to hear. If following the show you’ve been left with a ringing in your ears (tinnitus), or you are struggling to hear quite as well for several days, you have probably experienced NIHL – noise-induced hearing loss.
Noise induced hearing loss can happen even after one exposure to very loud concert music, because the high decibel noises damage tiny hair cells in the inner ear that detect auditory signals and translate them into sounds. Luckily for the majority, the noise-induced hearing loss they suffer after a single exposure to very loud concert music is not permanent, and disappears after a few days. However recurring exposure to loud noise can cause the impairment to become permanent and result in tinnitus that doesn’t go away or in a serious hearing loss.
A couple of factors determine how much damage is done to hearing by exposure to loud sounds – precisely how loud the sounds are, and also the period of time you are in contact with them. Noise levels are measured on the decibel scale, which is logarithmic and therefore difficult for many people to understand; an increase of 10 decibels on the scale means that the noise at the higher rating is twice as loud. Thus the sound of busy city traffic (85 decibels) is not just a little bit louder than the sound of normal speech (65 decibels), it’s four times louder. The decibel rating at average rock and roll concerts is 115, meaning that these noise levels are 10 times louder than typical speech. In addition to how loud the music is, the other factor that determines how much damage is done is the length of time you are in contact with it, the permissible exposure time. By way of example, contact with noises of 85 decibels can cause hearing loss after only 8 hours. At 115 decibels the permissible exposure time before you risk hearing loss is under one minute. Therefore rock and roll concerts are potentially dangerous, since the noise levels at some of them have been recorded at greater than 140 decibels.
It’s been estimated that as many as 50 million Americans will suffer loss of hearing as a result of exposure to loud music – either at live shows or over headsets by the year 2050. Live concert promoters, since being informed about this, have started to offer concertgoers inexpensive earplugs to wear during their shows.One producer of earplugs even entered into a partnership with a British rock band to offer its ear plugs to attendees free of charge. Signs are beginning to crop up at concert venues saying, “Earplugs are sexy!” In all honesty, sporting earplugs at a concert might not really be sexy, but if they save your ability to hear and enjoy future concerts it might be worthwhile.
We here at House of Hearing Audiology Clinic can help you select a pair. In case a noisy rock and roll concert is in your future, we highly recommend that you consider donning a pair.