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If you’ve previously attended a modern rock concert and found yourself thinking, “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 in danger of hearing damage. If, after you’ve left the concert, and for the subsequent couple of days you’ve had a ringing in your ears (tinnitus) or had difficulty hearing as well as usual, you might have experienced NIHL – noise induced hearing loss.

Noise induced hearing loss can occur even after one exposure to loud music, because the loud noises damage tiny hair cells in the interior of the ear that detect auditory signals and translate them into sounds. Fortunately for most people, the NIHL they suffer after a single exposure to very loud music is not permanent, and disappears after a day or so. However repetitive exposure to very loud sounds can cause the impairment to become permanent and result in ringing in the ears that never goes away or even in a significant hearing loss.

How much damage very loud noise does to a person’s ability to hear is determined by 2 things – exactly how loud the music is, and exactly how long you are in contact with it. 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 10 on the scale means that the sound is two times as loud. Noisy city traffic at 85 decibels is therefore not just a little louder than ordinary speech at 65 decibels, it is four times as loud. A rock concert, at which the sound level is usually in the range of 115 decibels, is 10 times louder than average speech. The additional factor that determines how much hearing damage arises from very loud noise is the length of time you are in contact with it, what audiologists refer to as the permissible exposure time. As an example, contact with noises of 85 decibels can cause hearing problems after only 8 hours. In contrast, the permissible exposure time for music at 115 decibels without risking hearing loss is less than one minute. Add to this the fact that the sound level at some concerts has been recorded at over 140 decibels, and you have a high risk situation.

It has been predicted that as many as 50 million people will suffer loss of hearing as a result of exposure to loud music – either at concerts or over headphones by 2050. Concert promoters, since being informed about this, have begun to offer attendees inexpensive earplugs to wear during their shows.One producer of earplugs even entered into a partnership with a British rock band to offer its ear plugs to fans at no cost. Signs are starting to crop up at concert venues saying, “Earplugs are sexy!” Earplugs may, in fact, not be particularly sexy, but they could possibly save your valuable hearing.

Any of us can help fit you with a pair. We recommend getting them next time you’re intending go to a live rock concert.