If you’ve previously attended a modern day rock concert and found yourself saying, “That music is way too darned loud,” it does not necessarily indicate that you’re getting old. This reaction could be your body’s way of informing you that you are in danger of hearing damage. If, after you have left the concert, and for the following few days you’ve had a ringing in your ears (tinnitus) or experienced trouble hearing as well as usual, you may have experienced NIHL – noise induced hearing loss.
NIHL can occur even after one exposure to loud concert music, because the loud noises damage small hair cells in the interior of the ear that receive auditory signals and translates them into sounds. Luckily for the majority, the NIHL they suffer following a single exposure to loud music is temporary, and disappears after a day or so. But recurring exposure to loud noise can cause the impairment to become permanent and result in ringing in the ears that never goes away or even in a major loss of hearing.
A pair of factors determine how much harm is done to hearing by exposure to loud sounds – how loud the sounds are, and the length of time you are in contact with them.
The loudness 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 twice as loud. Noisy urban traffic at 85 decibels is thus not just a little louder than normal speech at 65 decibels, it is four times louder. A rock concert, at which the noise level is commonly in the vicinity of 115 decibels, is ten times louder than ordinary speech. Together with 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 for music at 115 decibels without taking a chance on hearing loss is less than one minute. Coupled with the knowledge that the noise level at some concerts has been recorded at over 140 decibels, and you’ve got a high risk situation.
It has been estimated that up to 50 million people will suffer hearing loss as a result of exposure to loud music – either at concerts or over headsets by the year 2050. Live concert promoters, since being informed about this, have started to offer fans inexpensive earplugs to use during their concerts. One famous UK rock band actually partnered with an earplug producer to offer them free of charge to people attending its concerts. Some concert attendees have described seeing signs inside various venues that proclaim, “Earplugs are sexy.” In all honesty, sporting earplugs at a concert may not really be sexy, but if they save your hearing it might be worthwhile.
Any of us can help you select a pair. If a noisy rock concert is in your future, we strongly suggest that you consider wearing a pair.