If you’ve previously attended a modern 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 means of informing you that you are at risk of hearing impairment. If, after you have left the event, and for the next couple of days you’ve had a ringing in your ears (tinnitus) or had trouble hearing as well as usual, you might have experienced noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL.

This could happen even after short exposures to loud noises, and occurs because high decibel sounds can cause structural damage to the very small hair cells which receive auditory signals in the inner ear and send them to the brain, where they are translated into sounds. Generally, the noise-induced hearing loss brought on by one single exposure to really loud noise or music is temporary, and should go away within a few days. But if you continue to expose yourself to loud music or noise, it can cause tinnitus that does not go away, or a permanent loss of hearing.

Two factors determine how much harm is done to hearing by exposure to loud sounds – exactly how loud the sounds are, and also the period of time you are in contact with them. Noise levels are measured on the decibel scale, which is logarithmic and therefore difficult for many people to understand; an increase of ten decibels on the scale means that the noise at the higher rating is two times as loud. Thus the sound of busy city traffic (85 decibels) isn’t just a little louder than the sound of regular speech (65 decibels), it’s 4 times as loud. The decibel rating at normal rock concerts is 115, meaning that these noise levels are ten times louder than normal speech. The other factor that impacts how much hearing damage arises from loud noise is how long you’re in contact with it, what audiologists call the permissible exposure time. By way of example, exposure to noises of 85 decibels may cause hearing problems after only 8 hours. In contrast, the permissible exposure time that you can be exposed to sound at 115 decibels without taking a chance on hearing loss is under one minute. Thus rock and roll concerts are potentially dangerous, since the sound levels at some of them have been measured at more than 140 decibels.

Projections from audiologists say that by the year 2050 around 50 million people will have suffered hearing loss resulting from exposure to loud music. Concert promoters, since being informed about this, have started to offer attendees low-cost ear plugs to use during their concerts.One popular UK rock band even collaborated with an earplug manufacturer to offer them free of charge to everyone attending its concerts. Some concertgoers have described seeing signs in the auditoriums that say, “Earplugs are sexy.” Earplugs may, in fact, not be very sexy, but they might just save your valuable hearing.

Any of our hearing specialists here is very happy to supply you with information regarding earplugs. Consider getting them next time you’re intending go to a very loud rock concert.

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