How to Avoid Hearing Loss at a Rock Concert
Even one loud concert can cause permanent ringing
Listen up, music fans: Attending a single concert — whether it’s One Direction at a mega stadium or a garage band at the local bar — can be enough to damage your hearing forever. Yes, forever.
So before you or your teen hits the next Strokes, Dave Matthews, Maroon 5 or EMD concert, think about how you’ll protect your hearing.
How loud is too loud?
The typical rock or pop concert can be 110 decibels (db) — as loud as a chain saw, and almost as loud as an ambulance siren. And that’s not including the screaming fans all around you. Regular exposure to more than a minute of noise (or music) at that volume can put you at risk for permanent hearing loss according to the National Institutes of Health.
Long-term exposure to loud noise is largely responsible for hearing loss in many people. Noise-induced hearing loss causes a type of damage associated not only with poor hearing but also with tinnitus, that oh-so-annoying ringing, buzzing or roaring in the ears. “The noise damages the hair cells in the inner ear, also called the cochlea," says Victoria Hamilton, Au.D, an audiologist with Kaiser Permanente in Atlanta, Georgia.
Two signs you’ve damaged your ears are a temporary loss of hearing after a concert and tinnitus. Even a one-time exposure can cause irreparable hearing loss, says Hamilton. More often, though, the damage is cumulative, over a lifetime of concerts.
Moving further away from the band may not help much. “A lot of small concert halls have hard surfaces, the noise just bounces around and you can’t move away from it,” says Hamilton.
“If you go to a concert, you should definitely take ear protection,” she notes. Her advice: Look for earplugs or ear muffs that attenuate the sound by about 20 to 25 decibels. A small reduction in volume makes a big difference in the length of time you can safely listen.
There are many choices, from over the counter “foamies” to custom-made plugs. Here’s the lowdown on different options.
Musician ear plugs. These multi-tiered plugs are designed for musicians. They have a filter that reduces the different sound frequencies equally so as not to distort the music or muffle the lyrics, explains Hamilton. Brand names include DUBS, DefendEar, Hearos and Weststar. Musician plugs come with different filters, so look for ones that attenuate the sound by 25 db. And get ones that are attached by a cord that can go around your neck so you don’t lose them.
Custom made ear plugs. An audiologist can customize plugs to fit your ears. This makes them a lot more comfortable, which will increase the likelihood that you’ll wear them when you need to. Custom-made plugs may be particularly useful for kids, whose ears are generally too small for mass-produced plugs (musician’s plugs don’t typically come in children’s sizes). Custom plugs are more expensive, but you’ll be saving your hearing.
Foam plugs. If you’re not a big concert-goer but you find yourself with tickets to one, foam ear plugs that you buy at the drugstore might be all your need. They’ll muffle and distort the sound, but if you’re taking your tween to a concert that you’re not that into, who cares? (Make sure your tween is wearing ear protection, too.)
Ear muffs. If your only concern is reducing the overall sound, over-the-ear muffs are another option. These can reduce noise by 30 to 35 db (about the same as foam ear plugs), and they’re more comfortable than ear plugs. But don’t expect high fidelity.