If you’ve ever attended a modern day rock concert and found yourself thinking, “That music is way too darned loud,” it doesn’t necessarily indicate that you’re getting old. This reaction could be your body’s means of informing you that you are in danger of hearing impairment. If later, after you have left the concert, and for the next few days you have had a ringing in your ears (tinnitus) or experienced trouble hearing as well as usual, you may have experienced noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL.
Noise induced hearing loss can happen even after a single exposure to very loud music, because the loud noises harm small hair cells in the inner ear that receive auditory signals and interpret them as sounds. Thankfully for the majority, the noise-induced hearing loss they suffer after a single exposure to loud concert music is not permanent, and goes away after a day or so. But repeated exposure to loud noise can cause the damage to become permanent and lead to tinnitus that never goes away or even in a significant loss of hearing.
A pair of factors determine how much damage is done to hearing by exposure to loud sounds – how loud the sounds are, and the period 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’s logarithmic, meaning that every increase of ten on the scale means that the noise is two times as loud. Noisy city traffic at 85 decibels is thus not just a little louder than normal speech at 65 decibels, it’s four times louder. A rock concert, at which the noise level is commonly in the range of 115 decibels, is ten times louder than normal speech. The second factor that determines how much hearing impairment arises from loud music is the length of time you are in contact with it, what audiologists refer to as the permissible exposure time. By way of example, exposure to sounds of 85 decibels may cause loss of hearing after only 8 hours. At 115 decibels the permissible exposure time before you risk hearing loss is less than 1 minute. Coupled with the fact that the noise level at some concerts has been measured at over 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 as a result of exposure to loud music. Live concert promoters, since being made aware of this, have begun to offer concertgoers low-cost earplugs to wear during their concerts.One popular UK rock and roll band actually collaborated with an earplug producer to offer them free to people attending its live shows. A few concert attendees have described seeing signs in the auditoriums that proclaim, “Earplugs are sexy.” In all honesty, wearing earplugs at a live concert may not really be sexy, but if they safeguard your ability to hear and enjoy future concerts it might be worth considering.
Any of our hearing specialists here would be pleased to provide you with information regarding earplugs. If a noisy rock and roll concert is in your near future, we highly recommend that you think about donning a good pair.