LOUD MUSIC AND
|How loud is loud?|
|Table - Common Noise Levels and Typical Reactions|
|What do Bill Clinton and Pete Townsend of the Who have in common?|
|Rock machismo lives, despite the threat of permanent hearing loss|
|So just what is the problem?|
|What loud music does to your ear: the physiology of the ear and hearing|
|Noise and hearing loss|
|Watch your hearing!|
|headphones, ear-pieces and “ear bud” phones|
|I’m not going to stop going to gigs!|
|Problems with Conventional Earplugs|
|So, what do the bands do?|
|Typical high grade plugs (as used by musicians)|
|If you need further help or advice|
Common Noise Levels and Typical Reactions
|Activity||Noise Level [dB(A)]||Apparent Loudness||Typical Physical Response||related document:|
|Rocket launching||180||Danger level|
|Threshold of pain
Jet engine taking off
Air raid siren
Hydraulic press (3 m away)
|130||512 times as loud||Limited ability to hear amplified speech.
Noise may cause pain.
Can damage hearing after 3.75 minutes exposure per day
|120||256 times as loud||Can damage hearingafter 7.5 minutes exposure per day|
|110||Over 128 times as loud!!||Maximum vocal effort.
Can damage hearing after 30 minutes exposure per day
|Amplified Rock Music||110-130||Over 128 to 512 times as loud!!||Can damage hearing after
3.75 – 30 minutes
exposure per day
|105||Can damage hearing after
exposure per day
|Jet takeoff @ 500m
Train horn @ 30m
|100||64 times as loud||Can damage hearing after 2 hours exposure per day|
|Heavy truck @ 15m
Busy city street
|90||32 times as loud||Very annoying.
Can damage hearing after 8 hours exposure per day
|Busy traffic intersection
Motorway construction site
Alarm clock (with bell)
Freight train (15m away)
|80||16 times as loud||Annoying.|
|Motorway traffic @ 15m
Train horn @ 500m
electric sewing machine
Conversation in a loud voice
|70||8 times as loud||Telephone use difficult.|
|Light car traffic @ 15m
City or commercial areas
|60||4 times as loud||Intrusive.|
|Quiet office||50||2 times as loud||Speech interference.|
|Quiet residential area
Very soft music
|30||1/2 as loud||Very quiet.|
|Threshold of sound perception||10||1/8 as loud||Just audible.|
|Threshold of hearing||0||N/A||Not audible.|
What do Bill Clinton and Pete Townsend of the Who have in common?
They both have hearing damage resulting from exposure to loud music.
In Bill Clinton’s case, by playing the saxophone in a band during
Taken from Anderson, Brett, The treble and the damage done…
I’m not alone.
“What happens is the hair cells are damaged, but they’re not dead,” Dr. Sam Levine (an otolarynologist) explains. “As they’re damaged, you lose some of your hearing. Most of the time, if you get out of the environment, your hair cells will recover somewhat. Each day, it [your hearing] comes back, but not as good as it did the day before. Eventually, over a long period of time, hair cells are permanently damaged instead of temporarily damaged.”
Most people would rather believe that hearing loss is like car accidents, violent crime and tax audits - something that affects other people. There are some famous cases. Who guitarist Pete Townshend was perhaps the first major rock musician to bring public attention to the problems of hearing loss.
Update – December 2002 – Pete Townsend reports that his hearing has gone almost completely, he can no longer hear what other people say.
Two years later, rumor spread widely that Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner had tinnitus. Although he never has confirmed it to the press, his band’s sudden turn to acoustic music and the temporary use of a sound-deflecting barrier around Grant Young’s drums lent credence to the report. Bob Mould has spoken out about his hearing loss, telling Rolling Stone last year, “I know I’m reaching the end of what I can do because of my hearing.”
Dr.Levine explains that if the hair cell is damaged or destroyed, what comes out is an abnormal sound that’s not physically created and is a sound that’s literally ‘in your head’, known as tinnitus.
Benno Nelson, leader of the band National Dynamite: “I mean, sometimes it will get so bad, I’ll think to myself, ‘Could this drive me crazy? Will the ringing ever stop?’ It fucking sucks.”
Dr. Levine says regular exposure to noise that exceeds 85 decibels “is considered to be dangerous.” For perspective, the doc says a normal conversation should measure about 50 dB and a chart in his office has a food blender checking in at 88 dB, a jet flying overhead at 103 dB, a rivet machine at 110 dB and a rock band topping out the list at 114 dB.
Cows drummer Norm Rogers says he only notices hearing problems when his band is on a busy tour. At the tail end of a gruelling European jaunt, for instance, he says the scene in the band’s van was like “being in a geriatric home. It was pathetic. We were screaming at each other because we just couldn’t hear a thing.”
Given the trouble and the damage done, why aren’t bands turning down the volume? Why are 25dB earplugs still such a relatively rare sight in clubhounds’ ears?
One local musician insists that high volume is simply part of the package. “It’s totally fucking cool. It’s rock and roll,” says the musician, who also suffers from tinnitus and lives with “a gentle, soothing ring at about 6 kilohertz. Like anything that’s bad for your body, absorbing healthy doses of deafening monster rock happens to be awesome. – at lower volumes it’s dry and altogether unsatisfying”.
“My ears used to get like warm,” he says of his days before tinnitus. “They’d get warm and tingle when I’d totally be jammin’ to loudness, and I love that sensation.” (Yeah well, we can’t all be sane).
But could continuing to go without earplugs lead to deafness? “Absolutely,” Levine says. “There’s no cure for tinnitus or hearing loss. Your ears are trying to tell you something. That ringing is the scream of your hair cells dying. Each time you do that, more and more damage is done.”
Any kind of loud music, not just rock music, can cause temporary and permanent hearing loss. Constant ‘pounding’ music and noise that goes on for long periods of time are common causes of deafness.
If a noise is so loud that you have to shout to make yourself heard (which happens a lot or when you go to a concert), over time the mechanism of the inner ear will be injured.
Protecting the Ears
Noise-induced hearing loss can occur at any age.
Temporary hearing loss can happen after you’ve been exposed to loud noise for only 15 minutes. If you have temporary hearing loss, you won’t be able to hear as well as you normally can; and you may have tinnitus (say: tin-eye-tuss), which is a fancy word for ringing in the ears. Your ears can also feel ‘full’. These things usually go away and your hearing soon returns to normal.
How do I know if I need hearing protection?
Can loud rock music cause deafness?
Can going to one concert really damage your hearing?
Typically, you may experience a temporary hearing loss after going to a concert. You may notice that your ears are ringing or that speech is muffled when you leave the concert.
Physiology of the Ear and Hearing
The ear has three areas: the outer (visible part of the ear), middle, and inner ear. A thin membrane, called the eardrum (tympanic membrane), divides the middle and outer ear. When we hear, sound vibrations, or sound waves, funnel through the outer ear and down the ear (auditory) canal, where the sounds hit the eardrum, and cause the eardrum to vibrate.
These vibrations are passed through the three small bones in the middle ear - the malleus (hammer), incus (anvil), and stapes (stirrups). From the middle ear, the sound vibrations are transmitted to the inner ear (vestibule). Tiny hairs in the cochlea (a snail-shaped organ in the inner ear) transform the sound vibrations into nerve impulses. The impulses are transmitted to the brain through the auditory (cochlear) nerve.
Excessive exposure to loud noise can damage the tiny hairs in the cochlea and lead to hearing loss. Generally, this type of hearing loss is reversible (except in some cases of a sudden, very loud noise, such as an explosion).
Your ears are very delicate, prolonged exposure to sound pressure levels above 85dBA will cause damage to your hearing. If you have ever been to a party or to a concert where loud music was played, you may have experienced Temporary Threshold Shift (TTS). This temporary loss of hearing can become permanent if exposure is done on a regular basis. If this happens, you will never hear fully again. The only real solution then would be to be fitted for a hearing aid - not an attractive prospect for anyone, especially a teenager.
One way to tell if you’ve been exposed to excessive sound pressure levels is that you tend to hear a ringing in your ears.
Ringing in your ears, hissing, clicking or buzzing sounds all represent the effects of tinnitus, which is often a side effect of noise-induced hearing loss. Inner-ear cells are sensitive to vibrations. But if they’re damaged, the ears will still record ringing or buzzing, even when there’s no sound.
Remember, it is your high frequency hearing that deteriorates first. Think of what music would sound like if you couldn’t hear anything above 10KHz: just like with a crummy old transistor radio or listening to music over a telephone (no cymbals or high pitched instruments, voices sounding deadened). Protect yourself or just turn it down!
The high frequencies are lost first, so you may have difficulty hearing high-pitched voices. Loss of high-frequency hearing makes many words sound alike, especially those containing the high-frequency sounds S or soft C, F, SH, CH or H. Words like “hill,” “fill” and “sill” may sound exactly the same.
As one researcher found was often the case, listening to music/muzak at 110 to 120 decibels damages hearing in less than an hour and a half. Thus, the “longer-lasting batteries and more storage capacity encourages people with portable players to listen longer, not giving the ears a chance to recover”.
There is now information from Apple on how to set the maximum volume limit on fifth generation iPods.
Researchers at the University of Florida tested the hearing of some middle and high-school students. The investigators found that about 17 percent of the children had some degree of hearing loss. Most of the hearing loss was in higher pitches, which are usually the first ranges of sound to be lost after hearing damage. The investigators believe that exposure to excessive noise results in a serious hearing impairment at an early age.
Significant hearing losses were detected in a group of students who had a history of frequent attendance to pop music entertainments. Losses due to loud noises in jobs, gunfire, etc. were also identified. (The Lancet 2:203-204, August 2, 1975).
A ‘guinea pig’ showed hearing impairment in his right ear after listening to high-intensity rock music for 88 hours over a two month span. The left ear, protected by a plug during most of the music, demonstrated no cytological changes. The damage to the right ear was permanent. (Archives of Otolaryngology 90:29, 1969)
Fine, fine. Who said you should?
But if you don’t want to end up deaf in a few years time you MUST
protect your hearing now and that means
Problems with Conventional Earplugs
Musician’s earplugs are not intended for maximum attenuation. For
that application, conventional foam or fully sealed
“Three of the four members of Metallica wear earplugs. Some people think earplugs are for wimps. But if you don’t want to hear any records in five or ten years, that’s your decision.”
If I wear hearing protection devices while I’m playing, won’t
it be hard to hear myself or the other instruments?
If a hearing device cuts down on the noise from my instrument or
voice, how will I know what I sound like?
Don’t people in places with loud music or sounds just get used
to the volume?
After years of not wearing hearing protectors why start wearing them
“Musicians’ plugs allow some sounds in, but block others out. The musician’s hearing focuses on voice blending.” (Janser).
These specialised earplugs run from $150 - $200. The price may seem steep, but it’s quite reasonable compared with the financial and physical toll of wearing a hearing aid.
Custom fit earplugs, worn by many musicians, are made from an impression of the ear canal taken by an audiologist or other hearing health professional. The impression is sent to a lab, where the final ear-mould is made. Custom earplugs are comfortable, easy to insert correctly, and filter sound better than disposable plugs.
Your local medic (doctor), audiologist or hearing aid dispenser will be able to advise you further.
The ER-15 and ER-25 models are popular with musicians because of a special filter that lets the listener hear music at a safe level without sacrificing quality. Instead of cutting out the high frequencies, musician’s plugs attenuate all the frequencies evenly in relation to your hearing.
A flat-response attenuator (reducer) must have a frequency response that follows the shape of the natural frequency response of the open ear, but at a reduced level. Both the Musician’s Earplug ER-15 and ER-25 use a diaphragm, similar to a passive speaker cone, to achieve the desired response curve. The ER-20 uses a tuned resonator and acoustic resistor. To reduce the occlusion effect, a deep seal of the plug in the second bend of the ear canal is necessary. In general, the ER-15 attenuators are designed for environments where the A-weighted sound pressure level is 105 dB or less. The ER-25 attenuators are for use in environments above 105 dB and below 120 dB.
The attenuation shown in the above graph is for an average ear: at least 10 dB of protection for the ER-15, at least 15 dB of protection for the ER-20 and at least 20 dB of protection for the ER-25 are achieved in almost any ear with these attenuators properly in place. These custom ear moulds are to be fitted by an audiologist or hearing aid dispenser.
If you have concerns regarding your own hearing, seek
advice from your doctor, audiologist or local hearing
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