Concert Season is Nearly Upon Us! Got Your Earplugs?

If you have any teens in your house who are the least bit interested in modern music (and who among them is not?) then you know they are scouring the Web looking to see what traveling music festivals and which among their favorite bands will be in their local area this summer. Just be sure they bring along a set of ear plugs.

Loud music at rock concerts and music festivals can expose your children (and you!) to sound pressure levels of 100 to 110 decibels for several hours, a known cause of hearing loss. Hearing loss due to this type of exposure is normally temporary. Short-term exposure to extremely loud noise, or levels above 140 dBA, can cause acoustic trauma, with direct damage potentially leading to permanent hearing loss. 

The Center for Disease Control recommends a maximum of 15 minutes of exposure to 100 dBA, and just 3.75 minutes for 106 dBA. For every 3 dBAs over 85 dBA, exposure time before possible damage can occur is halved.

A recent randomized clinical trial at the University Medical Center at Utrecht in the Netherlands determined that earplugs can help prevent temporary hearing loss after listening to loud music. The researchers exposed two groups to a 4.5 hour concert with a time-averaged sound pressure level of 100 dBA. The researchers randomly assigned the participants to two groups. In one were 25 people who wore earplugs. The other 26 did not.

They then used an audiogram to measure any level of hearing loss, or temporary threshold shift. Results showed that the proportion of participants with temporary hearing loss was 8 percent in the earplug group, and 42 percent among those without earplugs. Moreover, only 12 percent of those with earplugs experienced tinnitus, compared with 40 percent in the unprotected group.

Tinnitus, often called a “ringing in the ears,” is a symptom of noise-induced hearing loss. In addition to the obvious effect it has on hearing and perception, tinnitus can also cause depression amd anxiety.

The author of the research noted that the clinical trail "adds evidence that earplugs are effective in preventing temporary hearing loss during high recreational music levels. Therefore, the use of earplugs should be actively promoted and encouraged to avoid noise-induced hearing loss."