If you’ve ever been at a concert and thought “This music is just too darned loud,” it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have become too old for this kind of music. This response could be your body’s way of informing you that you’re in danger of hearing impairment. If after the show you’ve been left with a ringing in your ears (tinnitus), or you are unable to hear quite as well for a couple of days, you have probably experienced NIHL – noise-induced hearing loss.
This can happen even with brief exposures to loud noises, and occurs because loud sounds can cause structural damage to the small hair cells which detect auditory signals in the interior of the ear and send them to the brain, where they are translated into sounds. In most cases, the noise-induced hearing loss resulting from a single exposure to really loud noise or music is temporary, and should go away within a few days. However if you continue to expose yourself to loud noise or music, it can cause tinnitus that doesn’t go away, or a permanent loss of hearing.
A couple of factors determine how much harm is done to hearing by exposure to very loud sounds – how loud the sounds are, and also the length of time you are in contact with them. The loudness of sound is measured in decibels, a scale that is somewhat illusory because it is logarithmic, meaning that each increase of 10 on the scale means that the sound is twice as loud. So the noise of noisy urban traffic (85 decibels) is not just a little bit louder than the sound of regular speech (65 decibels), it’s four times louder. A rock and roll concert, at which the noise level is usually in the vicinity of 115 decibels, is 10 times louder than standard speech. Together with how loud the noise is, the other factor that determines how much damage is done is how long you are in contact with it, the permissible exposure time. Hearing loss may occur from coming in contact with sound at 85 decibels after only 8 hours. In contrast, the permissible exposure time that you can be exposed to music at 115 decibels without taking a chance on hearing loss is less than one minute. Add to this the fact that the noise level at some rock concerts has been measured in excess of 140 decibels, and you’ve got a potentially dangerous situation.
Projections from audiologists claim that by 2050 around 50 million people in America will have suffered hearing loss resulting from exposure to loud music. Concert promoters, now that they have been made aware of this, have started to offer concertgoers low-cost earplugs to wear during their concerts.One supplier of these earplugs even entered into a partnership with a British rock band to provide its earplugs to fans at no cost. Notices are starting to crop up at music venues saying, “Earplugs are sexy!” Earplugs may, in fact, not be particularly sexy, but they might just save your valuable hearing.
Any of us can help to provide you with a pair. If a loud rock and roll concert is in your future, we highly recommend that you think about wearing a pair.