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Is Loud Music Dangerous?

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There’s nothing like listening to a favorite artist on a fancy set of headphones or (better yet) live in concert. But sound snobs beware: Loud music can lead to hearing loss, sometimes as early as age 30, making those sweet sounds of Adele and Jay Z a thing of the past.

Say What?! — Why It Matters

Listen up: Our ears aren’t invincible. Exposure to too much noise can lead to Noise-Induced Hearing Loss, which occurs when inner ear structures responsible for sound traveling to the brain are damaged. One study revealed roughly 90 percent of New York residents are exposed to too much noise, which is amping up their risk of hearing loss [1]. But don’t try to blame the hustle and bustle of the city— this self-reported study says MP3 players are to blame, not the city’s subways, construction sites, or sirens [2]. (Looks like staying plugged in on noisy mass transit puts New Yorkers at a greater risk.) Researchers also note that live music takes the cake as the most harmful threat to our hearing [3]. Rock concert sound levels often exceed 100 decibels, which is about 100 times louder than what any ears should be exposed to for more than 15 minutes at a time! (But who wants to duck out after three songs?)

Even more disturbing, this danger seems to start out young. One study found one in four kids age 13 to 17 are at severe risk for hearing loss due to headphone use and volume [4]. But it looks like lending an ear and learning the risks is catching on. Researchers targeting college students found that most are aware of hearing health (did they learn that in Safe Music Listening 101?) [5]. And for another A+, the majority of students weren’t at high risk for hearing damage, since they kept the volume down and stashed those iPods away from time to time, giving their ears a healthy break [5].

Listen Up and Turn it Down — The Answer/Debate

Changing our attitudes about loud music is the first step towards reducing the risk of hearing loss— and it looks like we’re on the right track. One study discovered hurting our hearing is a concern for only eight percent of the nearly 10,000 respondents (hear that?!), yet 66 percent could be persuaded to be smart about listening to music (if simply aware of the risks) [7].

And while loud music is indeed dangerous, it doesn’t mean giving up our favorite grooves for hearing’s sake. The next time a concert rolls around, try wearing earplugs; it’s a safe way to enjoy a night bouncing with Beyonce without worry (plus, experts say it won’t dampen the mood). And for those iPods, try volume-regulated headphones that don’t exceed 85 decibels (the highest safe level for those ears), or simply change the volume settings on an MP3 to keep them at a safe listening-level (around 75 decibels, the sound level of a dishwasher) That way, we can listen to John Stamos sing “Forever,” well… forever!

We’re curious: Have you ever worn earplugs at a concert venue? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below!

The Takeaway

 

Exposure to loud music can severely increase our risk of hearing loss. But don’t fret— there are alternative ways to listen to our favorite tunes without hurting our ears.

I'm the marketing director at Greatist, and when I'm not hanging at HQ with my best buds (aka co-workers...) you can find me training for... Read More »

Works Cited

  1. Exposures to Transit and Other Sources of Noise among New York City Residents. Nietzel, R.L, Gershon, R.R., McAlexander, T.P., et al. Risk Science Center, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, University of Michigan , Ann Arbor, Michigan. Environmental Science & Technology, 2011 Dec 8.
  2. Exposures to Transit and Other Sources of Noise among New York City Residents. Nietzel, R.L, Gershon, R.R., McAlexander, T.P., et al. Risk Science Center, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, University of Michigan , Ann Arbor, Michigan. Environmental Science & Technology, 2011 Dec 8.
  3. Loud Music Listening. Petrescu, N. 33 Wood Street, Toronto, ON, Canada. McGill Journal of Medicine, 2008 November; 11(2): 169–176.
  4. Preferred listening levels of personal listening devices in young teenagers: Self reports and physical measurements. Muchnjk, C, Amir, N, Shabtai, E, et al. Department of Communication Disorders, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University , Tel Aviv , Israel. International Journal of Audiology, 2011 Nov 28.
  5. Survey of college students on iPod use and hearing health. Danhauer, J.L., Johnson, C.E., Byrd, A., et al. Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara, Goleta, CA. Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, 2009 Jan;20(1):5-27.
  6. Survey of college students on iPod use and hearing health. Danhauer, J.L., Johnson, C.E., Byrd, A., et al. Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara, Goleta, CA. Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, 2009 Jan;20(1):5-27.
  7. Evaluation of noise-induced hearing loss in young people using a web-based survey technique. Chung, J.H., Des Roches, C.M., Meunier, J, et al. Department of Otolaryngology, Pediatric Otolaryngology Service, Boston, Massachusetts 02114. Pediatrics, 2005 Apr;115(4):861-7.