If you’ve ever been at a concert and thought “This music is simply too darned loud,” it doesn’t necessarily indicate that you have gotten too old for this kind of music. It might mean that your body is trying to tell you something – that you’re in a situation that could impair your hearing. 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 several days, you have probably experienced noise-induced hearing loss, abbreviated NIHL.
This may happen even after short exposures to high decibel noises, and occurs because loud sounds can result in structural damage to the very small hair cells which detect auditory signals in the inner ear and transmit them to the brain, where they are interpreted as sounds. Luckily for most people, the noise-induced hearing loss they experience following a single exposure to loud concert music is not permanent, and disappears after a day or so. But in the event that you continue to expose yourself to very loud music or noise, it can cause a case of tinnitus that does not subside, or a long-term loss of hearing.
How much damage very loud noise does to one’s ability to hear is dependant upon two things – exactly how loud the music is, and exactly how long you are in contact with it. Sound levels are measured on the decibel scale, which is logarithmic and thus not very intuitive; an increase of ten decibels on the scale means that the noise at the higher rating is twice as loud. Busy city traffic at 85 decibels is thus not just a little louder than ordinary speech at 65 decibels, it’s 4 times louder. A rock concert, at which the noise level is commonly in the vicinity of 115 decibels, is ten times louder than average speech. In addition to how loud the music is, the other factor that determines how much damage is done is how long you are in contact with it, the permissible exposure time. Loss of hearing can occur from coming in contact with sound at 85 decibels after only eight hours. At 115 decibels, the level of rock concerts, the permissible exposure time before you risk hearing loss is under one minute. Therefore rock and roll concerts are high risk, since the sound levels at some of them have been measured at more than 140 decibels.
It has been estimated that up to fifty million Americans will suffer loss of hearing as a result of exposure to loud music – either at live shows or over headphones by 2050. Live concert promoters, now that they have been made aware of this, have begun to offer attendees low-cost earplugs to use during their concerts.One famous UK rock and roll band actually partnered with an earplug vendor to offer them free of charge to people attending its concerts. A few concertgoers have reported seeing signs inside various venues that proclaim, “Earplugs are sexy.” In all honesty, wearing earplugs at a concert might not really be sexy, but if they safeguard your hearing it might be worthwhile.
Any of our hearing specialists right here is very happy to provide you with information regarding earplugs. We strongly suggest getting them next time you’re planning go to a very loud rock concert.