According to the World Health Organization, more than one billion teenagers and young adults around the world are at risk of hearing loss with to exposure to unsafe noise levels. Loud entertainment activities, such as nightclubs and concerts are part of the problem, and a new study from the Netherlands confirms it — only a few hours of exposure to loud music without hearing protection can have a long term, damaging effect on hearing.
Summer is here, and many of us will take advantage of the warm weather to see our favorite bands at music festivals. Spending the day at an live music venue is exciting, but there is a downside; with sound levels near 100 decibels (dB), there is a real risk of hearing damage.
The Netherlands study was devised as a randomized, single blind clinical trial, conducted at an outdoor music festival in Amsterdam in late 2015. The goal was to determine if the use of earplugs had an effect on temporary threshold shift (a temporary loss of hearing). Fifty-one volunteers were randomly assigned to one of two groups: 25 wore earplugs to the concert and 26 were assigned to attend the concert without any hearing protection. After the 4.5 hour concert, at which sound pressure levels averaged 100 decibels, both groups received hearing tests to determine if there was a measurable loss of hearing, and if so to what degree.
The study results were significant. Of the group that did not wear ear protection during the concert, 22 out of their collective 52 ears experienced a TTS at frequencies over 3 and 4 kHz, as opposed to only 4 out of the collective 50 ears of the group who wore hearing protection. And the rate of tinnitus was 40 percent in the non-earplug wearing group, as opposed to only 12 percent in the group who wore earplugs.
Results of the study strongly suggest that earplugs are effective in preventing temporary hearing loss as a result of excessively loud music levels, and their use should be encouraged. Concertgoers seeing one of the most popular bands on tour this summer, Pearl Jam, will notice a new addition among the t-shirts and other merchandise: earplugs. After taking notice of the prevalence of hearing loss among musicians and music lovers, Pearl Jam joined forces with MusiCares to provide earplugs to all attendees of their upcoming concerts for a minimal suggested donation.
“Don’t be careless and lazy at loud rock shows or cranking tunes through an old Walkman like I was thirty years ago. Wear hearing protection or you’ll end up with a ringing in both ears every night when you go to bed, or worse when you are trying to enjoy the serene quiet of an empty desert or forest, again like me,” said Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament.
If you have attended a loud concert and sounds are muffled or you are experiencing ringing or buzzing in the ears (tinnitus), the good news is that it is most likely only temporary. But temporary doesn’t necessarily mean there is no long-term effect. It is important to allow your ears a period of quiet rest and recovery if you are experiencing TTS. During this period of time it is crucial not to expose yourself to any loud sounds. After such a period of rest and recovery, hearing should return to normal. The recovery time for a temporary threshold shift varies, and could take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Be sure to seek help from Dr. Dena if your hearing does not return to normal after a few days.