If you have ever been at a live concert and found yourself thinking “This music is just too loud,” it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have gotten too old for this type of music. This reaction could be your body’s means of telling you that you’re at risk of hearing damage. If later, after you have left the concert, and for the following couple of days you have had a ringing in your ears (tinnitus) or had difficulty hearing as well as usual, you might have experienced noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL.

NIHL can happen even after a single exposure to loud concert music, because the high decibel noises damage tiny hair cells in the interior of the ear that receive auditory signals and interpret them as sounds. Luckily for most people, the noise-induced hearing loss they suffer after a single exposure to very loud music is short-lived, and goes away after a day or so. But in the event that you continue to expose yourself to loud noise or music, it can cause a case of tinnitus that does not go away, or a permanent loss of hearing.

Two factors determine how much harm is done to hearing by contact with very loud sounds – how loud the sounds are, and also the amount of time you are exposed to them. Sound levels are measured on the decibel scale, which is logarithmic and therefore difficult for many people to understand; a rise of ten decibels on the scale means that the sound at the higher rating is twice as loud. Busy urban traffic at 85 decibels is therefore not just a little louder than common speech at 65 decibels, it’s 4 times louder. A rock and roll concert, at which the sound level is usually in the vicinity of 115 decibels, is 10 times louder than standard speech. Together with how loud the noise is, the other factor that impacts how much damage is done is how long you are exposed to it, the permissible exposure time. By way of example, exposure to noises of 85 decibels can cause hearing loss after only 8 hours. At 115 decibels the permissible exposure time before you risk hearing loss is less than a minute. Coupled with the fact that the sound level at some concerts has been measured in excess of 140 decibels, and you’ve got a high risk predicament.

It has been estimated that as many as 50 million people will suffer loss of hearing as a result of exposure to very loud music – either at concerts or over headsets by the year 2050. Considering this, several concert promoters and music venues have begun providing sound-baffling earplugs to attendees for a small charge. One supplier of these ear plugs even entered into a partnership with a British rock band to offer its ear plugs to fans for free. Signs are beginning to appear at concert venues saying, “Earplugs are sexy!” In truth, wearing earplugs at a concert might not really be sexy, but if they save your hearing it might be worthwhile.

We can help to provide you with a pair. If a high decibel rock and roll concert is in your near future, we strongly suggest that you think about wearing a good pair.

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