Denver Hearing Specialists Blog

Summer Concerts and Noise-Induced Hearing Loss: Pack your Earplugs!

by Matthew Eldridge | Oct 21, 2011 | Comments

With the summer concert series in full swing, there’s a lot of happy couples spreading out blankets on the lawn, opening a nice bottle of merlot to enjoy music under the stars. You packed the pate and crackers and a couple of low beach chairs to enjoy a few hours of music under the stars. Millions of people attend these concerts each summer... they’re fun. But hate to ruin this idyllic evening with a little dose of reality. You can damage your ears permanently in less than three hours of loud (really loud) music – the kind you hear at summer concerts.

The Problem is the dBs The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel recently reported on sound pressure levels at outdoor concerts. Sound pressure levels are how loud the sound gets depending on where you are seated at the concert. The numbers won’t surprise you until you understand the impact these high dB rock gatherings have on your hearing, whether you’re 18 and getting as close as you can to the 10 foot wall of speakers, or a 55-year-old taking the grandkids to see No Doubt. (Aren’t you nice.)

The report used sound-level measuring gear at different locations for different groups and gauged the sound levels to every day sounds for easy comparison. The findings?

As seen in the previous chart, the levels recorded at these concerts are quite high and when compared to sounds we would never want to sit and listen to for very long such as chain saws, subways and airplane jets the numbers are surprising. For example, if someone sat near the speaker at the Hey Chap concert the noise they were exposure to would be equivalent to having a chainsaw running next to their ear. Ouch!

“Rock and Roll Will Never Die” Neil Young

That may be true, but it will take its toll on your hearing.

The investigators behind the Journal Sentinel’s report used standard sound pressure level measuring equipment to gather the data on just how much music the typical concert goer gets during a few sets by their favorite groups. So, you’re thinking, rock is supposed to be loud and you don’t do it all the time and it’ll only be for two or three hours (don’t forget the opening act) so why not, right? Well, the fact is, sounds this loud can actually do permanent damage to the hearing mechanism in as little as 60 minutes.

Noise experts and hearing professionals follow The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) best practices for safe duration noise exposure - which are much more aggressive than OSHA standards.

NIOSH best practices suggest a noise of 95 dB A would only be safe for <1 hour (not 4 hours as suggested by OSHA). NIOSH’s best practices recommendations are based on recent research demonstrating noise 95 dB A for more than an hour has the chance to cause hearing damage.

The following are NIOSH’s safe duration standards:

  • Sounds reaching 95 dB A, limit to 1 hours
  • Sounds reaching 100 dB A, limit to 15 minutes
  • Sounds reaching 105 dB A, limit to 4 minutes
  • Sounds reaching 110 dB A, limit to 1 minute 29 seconds

No matter which best practice standards are utilized, both translate into the same message: concerts are loud and will cause damage if hearing protection is not worn given the fact that levels at most concerts are well over 95 dB A and persons attend a concert for well over an hour.

Education is The Answer

If we don’t take steps to protect our hearing continued exposure to loud noise – like the noise you hear at a summer concert – can cause permanent-youhave- it-forever hearing loss in as little as three hours.

So, what can you do to protect the hearing that you still have left? Common sense comes into play, here. Sit in the back rows. Don’t rush to get as close as you can to the wall of speakers. Give your ears a little bit of a break to avoid damaging your hearing for the rest of your life. Is it worth it?

Notmuch of a decision, is it?

  • Give your ears a break from the constant assault of a marathon music fest.
  • Sit off to one side or the other of the stage so the woofers and tweeters don’t hit you smack in the ear drum.
  • Most importantly get specially filtered custom earplugs for music which allow you to protect your hearing while stil enjoying the quality of the music.
  • Finally, if you have been at the concert for multiple hours unprotected and you hear a jingle in your ears leave early. It’s the long-term exposure to loud music that causes hearing loss so shorten the term – even if it means you miss the three encores. Your long-term hearing is more important than any concert.

Rock on! Just do it wisely now.

Article taken from Health Hearing Aug. 2009

For more information on NIOSH Noise Standards please visit: Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Noise Exposure


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