Summer concert season is upon us, and two of my favorite bands were in town recently. Although my feet, ankles, knees and back told me no, my heart told me I had to go.
While the concerts were a blast, when we left and even into the next day, my ears were ringing.
Around the same time, celebrity musicians, such as Chris Martin, were speaking out about the potential damage to your ears from loud music. So I wanted to learn more.
Understanding Sound-Related Hearing Loss
Turns out that sound-related hearing loss occurs when the hair cells in the inner ear, which change sound into electrical signals that the brain then reads as sound, are damaged by repeated exposure to loud noise.
Martin also shared that he has a form of hearing damage called tinnitus, the phantom perception of noise in the ears, such as ringing, buzzing, roaring, crickets, the ocean and even music.
“A sense of muffling in the ear with ringing, or other forms of tinnitus, is typically temporary; however, substantial exposures to noise can result in permanent inner ear damage,” said Abraham Jacob, MD, director of the Ear Institute at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson.
How Loud is Too Loud?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers guidelines and helpful frames of reference for how much noise is too much. Some examples:
- A library is at about 40 decibels. There is no limit to how long you can safely be in this level of sound environment.
- Conversational speech is at approximately 60 decibels. Like 40 decibels, you can listen to 60 decibels safely for any period of time.
- The noise in a school cafeteria is about 85 decibels. You could be exposed to this level of sound safely for eight hours.
- A rock concert can be anywhere from 110 to 120 decibels and a headset at maximum volume is 105 decibels. These are in the same range as a chainsaw. At levels this high, you have about a minute-and-a-half before damage is caused.
So how can we keep our ears safe?
At concerts or in other situations with prolonged noise exposure, consider using earplugs. Earplugs reduce exposure by about 20 decibels.
“This allows you to stay in the loud environment substantially longer than without hearing protection,” explained Dr. Jacob.
Foam or silicone earplugs available at the drugstore are sufficient; but if you are a regular concert goer, consider more customized options like musicians’ earplugs that offer better sound filtering.
Other solutions for ear safety during concerts include:
- Avoiding conversations where you need to yell into the ear to hear
- Leaving the area periodically
- Staying away from the speakers
For headphones, set the volume to be only as loud as needed to hear the music – not as loud as you need to block out external sounds. And when you don’t absolutely have to use headphones, don’t.
While this information is startling, the next time my favorite band is in town, I do still plan to go. But I’ll be smarter about it so that I can keep hearing their music for many years to come.
Also read: Ins and Outs of Ear Infections