If you’ve previously attended a modern day rock concert and found yourself saying, “That music is just too darned loud,” it doesn’t necessarily indicate that you’re getting old. This reaction could be your body’s way of telling you that you are at risk of hearing impairment. If after the concert your ears are ringing (tinnitus), or you are not able to hear quite as well for several days, you’ve probably experienced noise-induced hearing loss, abbreviated NIHL.
Noise induced hearing loss can happen even after one exposure to very loud music, because the loud noises harm very small hair cells in the inner ear that detect auditory signals and interpret them as sounds. Fortunately for most people, the NIHL they experience following a single exposure to loud concert music is short-lived, and goes away after a few days. However repeated exposure to very loud sounds can cause the damage to become permanent and result in tinnitus that doesn’t go 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 – how loud the noises are, and also the amount of time you are in contact with them. The volume of sound is measured in decibels, a scale that can be difficult to comprehend because it is logarithmic, meaning that every increase of 10 on the scale means that the sound is two times as loud. Noisy city traffic at 85 decibels is thus not just a little louder than ordinary speech at 65 decibels, it’s 4 times louder. The decibel rating at typical rock concerts is 115, which means these sound levels are 10 times louder than normal speech. In addition to precisely how loud the music is, the second factor that impacts how much damage is done is the length of time you are exposed to it, the permissible exposure time. Loss of hearing may occur from being exposed to noise at 85 decibels after only eight hours. In contrast, the permissible exposure time that you can be exposed to noise at 115 decibels without taking a chance on hearing loss is less than 1 minute. Therefore concerts are high risk, because the noise levels at some of them have been recorded at more than 140 decibels.
It has been estimated that up to 50 million Americans will suffer loss of hearing due to exposure to loud music – either at live shows or over headsets by 2050. Considering this, many live concert promoters and music venues have begun providing sound-baffling earplugs to concertgoers for a nominal charge. One popular British rock band actually partnered with an earplug vendor to offer them free of charge to everyone attending its live shows. Signs are starting to crop up at music venues saying, “Earplugs are sexy!” Earplugs may, in reality, not be very sexy, but they might just save your hearing.
Any of our hearing specialists right here is very happy to supply you with information regarding earplugs. We recommend getting them next time you’re planning go to a very loud rock concert.