February 27, 2015 - Hearing loss is no longer a niche concern. Today the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that more than a billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss due to damaging levels of sound at noisy entertainment venues such as concerts, nightclubs, bars and amplified sporting events. Data from developed countries indicate that 40% of teens and young adults aged 12-35 years are exposed to potentially damaging levels of sound at entertainment venues.
To be safe and avoid hearing damage, it helps to understand how and when you are most at risk. Safe listening depends on your exposure to two variables: the intensity or loudness of sound, and for how long you are exposed that sound. The risk of hearing damage increases or decreases exponentially as either of these variables change. For example, at 85 decibels (dB) you are safe for about for eight hours - this is the noise level on a big city street. But at 100dB, like it is in most clubs and concert venues, you're only safe for about 15 minutes without proper hearing protection. Exposure to loud sounds can also trigger temporary hearing loss or a ringing sensation in the ear, otherwise known as Tinnitus (many of us have experienced this). In more severe cases, where your exposure is particularly loud or prolonged, it can lead to permanent damage of the ear’s sensory cells, resulting in irreversible hearing loss and/or constant ringing.
“You should be aware that once you lose your hearing, it won’t come back. Taking simple preventive actions will allow people to continue to enjoy themselves without putting their hearing at risk,” notes Dr. Etienne Krug, WHO Director for the Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention.**
So just doing what we do on a regular basis deteriorates our hearing - and the effects are often latent, so we won't know until many years later the damage we've done. Compound this with the dramatic increase in loud entertainment events and people attending these events at a much earlier age, and we have a serious health epidemic on our hands. To those who regularly protect their hearing, like musicians, this may not seem that surprising. But for the majority of the population the following statistics should be alarming:
So what can you do? Good news is that noise induced hearing loss is completely preventable. For those with Tinnitus or people who are super sensitive to noise (re: hyperacusis), they often cease going to loud places altogether - and this is certainly an option, but not a preference for most of us. For the majority who enjoy going to entertainment events, being safe just takes a little discipline. Here are a few things you can do to mitigate your risk of hearing damage at loud shows:
* Photo credit: Action on Hearing Loss - http://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk
** The World Health Organization - http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/ear-care/en/
*** The Hearing Health Foundation - http://hearinghealthfoundation.org/statistics