My colleagues and I have a tremendous challenge. Hearing loss isn’t on the radar screen of many young people. Yet, based on what we see in our office and recent research, every young person needs to be aware of their risk of hearing loss. Teens and younger adults often don’t realize concerts, nightclubs, parties, and earbuds can put them at risk of hearing loss.
That may come as a surprise since our society tends to associate hearing loss with being a senior citizen. Age-related hearing loss isn’t the only kind we should be concerned about. Repeated exposure to a high level of noise can damage hearing in people of all ages. That’s known as noise-induced hearing loss.
How Much Noise Is Too Much?
We use decibels to measure how loud a sound is. Usually, noise-induced hearing loss comes from regular exposure to sound that’s 85 decibels or higher. You don’t have to install a sound meter app on your phone to determine how loud an environment is. If you can’t hear people speaking who are within three feet of you, the noise level is high enough to harm your hearing. You’ve probably guessed the decibel level is frequently too high at concerts, nightclubs, and parties.
Recreational Noise Exposure Is the Issue
At one time, noise-induced hearing loss was mainly associated with work-related noise exposure. These days we’re seeing younger adults with noise-related hearing loss who’ve never worked in a noisy environment. A recent study suggests recreational noise exposure is responsible for noise-induced hearing loss in young people.
The study participants were aged 18 to 27 and included musicians and non-musicians. The researchers were surprised to discover musicians and non-musicians had no difference in their amount of noise exposure. Musicians and non-musicians had received most of their noise exposure during recreational activities like going to nightclubs and concerts. Worst of all, study participants who had the highest levels of noise exposure already had developed early signs of hearing damage.
In the United States, noise exposure in the workplace is regulated. Federal law requires employers to provide protective equipment such as earplugs or safety earmuffs to workers exposed to high levels of noise. Concerts and clubs typically exceed the noise levels that would mandate protective equipment for workers. Of course, entertainment venues aren’t required to provide patrons with protective gear.
How to Protect Your Hearing
You can prevent noise-induced hearing loss. As a hearing care professional, my advice is to stay away from noisy environments. I’m also a realist who knows most young people aren’t going to stop attending loud parties, nightclubs, and concerts. It’s possible to reduce your risk of hearing loss when you’re in a noisy environment. Stay as far as possible away from the source of the sound. Wearing musician earplugs lets you enjoy the music while protecting your ears.
Conventional earplugs or safety earmuffs are a good idea for anyone who participates in noisy activities like using a gas-powered lawnmower, hunting, riding a motorcycle, or attending sporting events. The CDC says five in ten young people have the volume set too high when they’re using earbuds or headphones. Turning the volume down to about half the device’s capacity is helpful.
If you or someone you know has been experiencing uncomfortable hearing loss symptoms, contact our team or schedule a Tele Audiology appointment. Our full safety protocol for in-person appointments is available here.