Ever go to the movies or a rock concert and been blasted by the sound? You may not realize it while it’s happening, but ongoing exposure to loud sounds at these venues can damage your hearing.
Our ears are highly sensitive to loud noise. Even very short exposures to high-level sounds – that’s anything above 132 decibels – can cause permanent hearing loss for some people. That’s true even if it’s just a brief blast; a single gunshot or fireworks explosion can cause immediate damage to the ear.
Even lower-level sounds – around 85 decibels – can injure the ear if heard for extended periods of time. Listening to a lawn mower for eight hours a day, for example, can put a person at risk for hearing loss.
Simply put, as the sound gets louder, safe exposure times get shorter. And whether from movies or concerts, fireworks or lawn mowers, about 40 million Americans have hearing problems from loud noise exposure. The unfortunate part is that it’s all preventable.
What many people do not know is that exposure to loud sounds over time can damage the tiny hair cells of the inner ear. These cells pick up sound and turn them into neural impulses that travel to the hearing centers of the brain.
I’m particularly concerned about recreational noise exposure. While we commonly think about potential harms from loud noises in factories, construction sites or other loud workplaces, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 53% of people ages 20 to 69 who have hearing loss from loud noise report no workplace noise exposure.
That means these people choose loud hobbies or recreational activities without being aware of the risks. It’s not just movies, concerts and sporting events; power tools, motorcycles, off-road vehicles and firearms can all be hazardous to the ear.
Concerts regularly exceed 105 decibels, where sound exposure is safe for only about four minutes. Some shows can be even louder. And these levels of sound usually last for long periods of time – two or three hours. This clearly puts listeners at risk for hearing loss. The same also applies to other music-dominated events, like nightclubs.