Study links music festivals and hearing damage

Many of us like to fill our summer calendar with concerts and music festivals, but can too much loud music have a lasting impact on our hearing?

A recent study says yes.

The study looked at a group of 51 people attending an outdoor music festival.

Half of the participants were given ear plugs to wear, while the other half went without ear plugs.

Researchers discovered that after four and a half hours of music, people were more likely to experience temporary loss of hearing if they were not wearing protective ear plugs.

Sharon Sandridge, Ph.D., of Cleveland Clinic, did not take part in the study, but said wearing ear plugs makes a difference.

“For the people who wore the earplugs, their hearing sensitivity actually improved after they were tested following the concert, compared to their hearing before the concert,” she said. “The ones who didn’t wear ear plugs actually had about a ten DB decrease in hearing.”

Dr. Sandridge warns that the ‘ringing’ or dullness that people sometimes hear in their ears following a concert isn’t just temporary, even if it seems to go away the next day. It actually causes permanent damage in the microscopic features in the ear.

“The damage won’t show up in your hearing sensitivity until years later,” she said. “The damage becomes evident as you age. The ability to understand speech in background noise becomes increasingly difficult in part, due to the sound exposure that happened years ago.”

Dr. Sandridge said whenever heading into any situation where there will be loud noise, such as concerts or even sporting events, we need to protect our ears. To reduce the sound to a safe listening level, she suggests using hearing protection or reducing time spent in the loud environment.

Researchers noted that some of the study participants complained that the ear plugs reduced the sound quality of the concert.

Dr. Sandridge said that for those who like to attend many concerts, it’s worth the effort to get a custom set of ear plugs.

“If you are a concert-goer, you really should have custom earplugs made by your audiologist,” she said. “They will help lessen the intensity, but maintain the frequency response, so it will sound very natural, whereas just the foamy rollup ones, which are designed for industrial noise, tend to change the frequency response and also the quality of the sound.”

Complete results of the study can be found in JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery.