Protect your ears from loud music

Noise levels around the stages at music festivals can reach 110 decibels or more. That's like standing next to a jackhammer drilling into concrete.

Damage to hearing cannot be reversed. Watch a video about tinnitus

Spending too long listening to loud music can cause permanent damage to your ears, resulting in problems such as tinnitus and hearing loss.

However, ear health campaigners say that music lovers are not aware of how important it is to protect their ears.

In a survey of 2,711 festival-goers in 2008, 84% said they experienced dullness of hearing or ringing in the ears after listening to loud music.

"These are the first signs of hearing damage," says Donna Tipping from Action on Hearing Loss, the charity that commissioned the study.

"The next morning or a couple of days later, your hearing may gradually return to normal but over time, with continued exposure, there can be permanent damage."

Tipping says the risk of damage to hearing is based on how loud the music is and how long you listen to it for.

"If you can't talk to someone two metres away without shouting, the noise level could be damaging," she says.

The dangers to hearing are just as serious at an open-air music festival as they are in an indoor nightclub. Volumes of 137 decibels have been recorded near the music stages at some music festivals, according to Action on Hearing Loss.

"At 140 decibels, which is the same as a jet plane taking off at close range, your ears start hurting," says Tipping. 

Photo courtesy of RNID

Using earplugs 

Action on Hearing Loss recommends wearing earplugs for music, standing away from the speakers and taking regular breaks from the loudest areas.

Tipping says earplugs are the music industry's best-kept secret. "DJs and musicians have been wearing earplugs for years and many recommend them to fans," she says.

These earplugs are designed specifically for clubs and gigs and don't muffle sound. There are different types of earplugs available, from affordable and reusable one-size-fits-all plugs to custom moulds used by musicians and DJs.

"Most of them work by reducing the noise level that reaches your ear," says Tipping. "This means you can still hear the music the way it is, but at a lower volume.

"If you hear tingling or buzzing after listening to a set, give your ears a break. You risk more damage if you don't," says Tipping.

"Wear reusable earplugs, stand well away from the enormous speakers and spend some downtime at the festival's chill-out area."

Anybody's hearing can be damaged by loud music and nobody can harden their ears against that damage.

"If you think you've toughened up your ears to loud music or become used to loud music, it's possible you have already suffered some damage," says Tipping.

"Once hearing is gone, it's gone for good," says Tipping. "The best solution is to protect your hearing in the first place."

Page last reviewed: 05/05/2015

Next review due: 05/05/2017

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