At parties, festivals, concerts your ears are often exposed to high volumes for hours, which can permanently damage your hearing.
Even just half an hour of loud sounds per week is enough to impair hearing for the long-term.
Becoming aware about “safer hearing” means taking care of yourself and your ears, so that you can keep on telling the difference between good and bad music, and keep enjoying it.
To see what we mean by safer hearing, keep on reading.
What is loud?
The biggest main cause of hearing damage is noise exposure: acute exposure to loud sounds and long-term exposure in an environment that's too loud. Volumes over 120 db [decibels] is considered “acoustic trauma”.
If you expose your ears to a sound level of 130-150 db [e.g. gunfire, jet takeoff], you've hit the pain threshhold. Even sounds lasting less than 1 minute can cause hearing damage. Noise levels of over 90 db lead to permanent hearing degeneration [e.g. in car radios, mp3 players, airplanes].
A constant loud noise that's part of your environment [e.g. street noise] leads to constant overstimulation and causes slower degeneration of your hearing. That's why noise levels sustained for over 8 hours at workplaces need to be below 85 db.
The usual daily sound level for living areas is between 40-60 db [refrigerator, conversations]. Light sounds are wind and snow [10-20 db]. Humans can hear sounds starting at 0 db.
How loud sounds seem to you depend on how stressed you feel. The adrenaline flow you get from longer lasting stresses [e.g. from loud music] may cause spasms in the inner ear and an undersupply with blood. Whether the symptoms continue and whether some damage remains depends on the length and extent of this undersupply.
What is "sudden deafness"?
“Sudden deafness” is the general name for a disease – Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss [SSHL] – which can be the cause of hearing damage. It is experienced by a high ringing sound [tinnitus] or a sudden loss of hearing.
Tinnitus is not a disease, but rather a symptom. Sudden deafness, however, may cause irreparable damage [e.g. if you wait too long to go to the doctor]. Usually, tinnitus doesn't just come from short, temporary noise exposure, but a combination of longer lasting higher volumes [mostly by loud middle and high frequencies] without enough time in between for the ears to relax, and general day-to-day stress.
About 10% of the population suffers from tinnitus. Because of growing noise exposure in young people [clubs, headphones, higher daily noise level], more than 5% of teens have tinnitus. Hearing loss can also develop from the slow [and often unnoticed] continuous impact of “leisure noise” [sounds that are chosen and are generally perceived as pleasant].
“Bone conduction” is also important:
Sound waves are carried through the bones to the eardrum. So even with earplugs or hearing problems, you could still experience “Sudden deafness” if you, for example, stand right in front of a sound source [e.g. bass speakers].
Signs of Hearing Diseases:
If you hear a whistling, hissing, or buzzing noise or if sounds seem muffled [like you have water in your ear] and if this lasts until the next day, you could have “sudden deafness”. You'll need to see an ear-nose-throat doctor in the next 24 hours.
If the ear cells that transmit sound are harmed, it may be that the wrong signals are transmitted. Then you'll keep hearing a sound, most likely a buzz/ringing [tinnitus]. Less frequently, the symptoms can include faintness or disturbance of equilibrium.
Chronic tinnitus also has psychological after-effects: concentration and sleep problems, depression and anxiety that have to be treated with psychotherapy.
What can I do?
Hearing damage can have a permanent impact on your hearing abilities. In the worst case you become deaf. So, once again: don't hesitate to go to an ear-nose-throat doctor!
There are various different treatment options, depending on the type of the problem [from noise, stress, or organic causes]: oxygen therapy, autogenic training or medication, infusions to stimulate blood circulation. Until you can see a doctor: total calm! No stress!
You should also not take any substances that constrict blood vessels [nicotine, medications] or cause stress [coffee, etc.]. And if you think that the hearing damage has caused long-term damage: you can get a free hearing test at your doctor's office.
Protecting your ears:
To avoid damaging your hearing at events with [electronic] music there are no set rules. There is a “norm for sound in theatre and event spaces”. But it's been found that sound levels next to speakers at concerts are over 120 db.
In clubs the volume increases as the night goes on: on average, the level increases about 2 db per hour. For example, if the sound level is 90 db at 10 pm, at 3 am you can expect 100 db. You won't be able to tell when the sound levels are raised, it just keeps numbing your ears.
There's a law in Switzerland that the sound level cannot exceed 93 db at clubs, parties or concerts. For sounds up to 100 db, guests have to be made aware of the health risks and there must be hearing protection available. Often, earplugs are included in the ticket price and given out to every guest at the entrance.
The only way to have safer hearing is to use earplugs. If there aren't any available, you can improvise with some cotton or paper [for better results – get it moist].
Don't stand right next to the speakers! Don't dance right in front of them! Take care of your ears by taking time off from louder music in chillout areas or going outside. If the music seems loud to you, let the organizers know! Ask why there aren't earplugs at the entrance or at the bar!
Drug consumption can influence how loud things sound. The sound level often sounds lower than it actually is.
And make sure that stress doesn't cause hearing damage! If you don't feel good: avoid overstimulation! Even leave the party. Find light and relaxing sounds – find your chill out space!
Listen to music that you like. Watch out for your friends' ears if they have long exposure to loud sounds!
And if you want to take preventative care of your hearing: don't just listen to music, sing a lot!
Seriously: your body is largely made up of water, and when you sing the water vibrates and your body becomes a sound box. Singing is the best way to relax your acoustic system and it also strengthens your entire nervous system!
There are different kinds of earplugs and different price levels: wax balls, silicon, synthetic, customised earplugs for professionals [also DJs!], elastic foam.
The last ones are the most practical ones for parties. They are inexpensive, washable, and can be used repeatedly. You should be careful when washing them, and follow the instructions on the package. Be careful about using the earplugs, do not squeeze them. They can be damaged easily, so you should buy some new ones fairly often.
The earplugs sold at drug stores are often expensive. You can buy in bulk and get a huge selection of earplugs online. Maybe also someone you know can get free earplugs from work [construction sites, factories].