Noisy rock concerts can impair hearing: Study

Updated: May 22, 2012, 14:17 PM IST

Washington: If you are a die-hard rock music fan, please take note: A new study has found that 72 per cent of teenagers’ experienced reduced hearing ability after exposed to a loud concert.

This hearing loss isn`t permanent, but repeated exposure to such loud noise can be, study author M Jennifer Derebery of the House Research Institute said.

"Teenagers need to understand a single exposure to loud noise either from a concert or personal listening device can lead to hearing loss," Derebery was quoted as saying by LiveScience.

"With multiple exposures to noise over 85 decibels, the tiny hair cells may stop functioning and the hearing loss may be permanent."

For their study, which will appear in the journal Otology & Neurotology, the researchers tested the hearing of 29 teens before and after a concert.

Using a calibrated sound pressure meter, the researchers recorded 1,645 measurements of sound decibel levels during the 26 songs played during the three hour concert.

The sound levels ranged from 82 to 110 decibels, with an average of 98.5 decibels. The mean level was greater than 100 decibels for 10 of the 26 songs. These levels are much higher than recommended.

Following the concert, the majority of the participants were found to have a significant reduction in the Distortion Product Otoacoustic Emissions test, which checks the function of the tiny outer hair cells in the inner ear which is thought to be the most vulnerable to damage from prolonged noise exposure, and are crucial to hearing.

This type of hearing loss is not generally believed to be permanent. It`s called a temporary threshold shift and usually disappears within 16 to 48 hours, after which an individual`s hearing returns to previous levels.

However, it`s known that with repeated exposure to loud noise, the tiny hair cells may become permanently damaged, the researchers said.

Recent animal research suggests that a single exposure to loud noise may result in permanent damage to the hearing nerve connections themselves that are necessary to hear sound.

Following the concert, 53.6 per cent of the teens said they did not think they were hearing as well after the concert. 25 per cent reported they were experiencing tinnitus or ringing in their ears, which they did not have before the concert.

The findings of the study clearly indicate more research is necessary to determine if the guidelines for noise exposure need to be revised for teenagers, the researchers said.
More research is also needed to determine if teenager’s ears are more sensitive to noise than adults, they added.

"It also means we definitely need to be doing more to ensure the sound levels at concerts are not so loud as to cause hearing loss and neurological damage in teenagers, as well as adults," said Derebery.

Before the concert, the participants were explained about the importance of using hearing protection, but only three chose to use the ear plugs offered to them.

"We have to assume this is typical behaviour for most teen listeners, so we have the responsibility to get the sound levels down to safer levels," Derebery added.