30 October 2012

Almost three-quarters of teens experience reduced hearing after attending a concert

The teenagers were offered hearing protection, but only a few used them.
Almost three-quarters of teens experience reduced hearing after attending a concert

72% of teenagers who participated in the study experienced reduced hearing ability following exposure to a concert. This is shown in a study which tested teens' hearing before and after the concert.

Following the concert, 53.6% of the teens said that they thought their hearing had been affected negatively. 25% reported that they were experiencing tinnitus or ringing in their ears, which they did not have before the concert.

Offered hearing protection

In the study, 29 teenagers were given free tickets to a rock concert. To ensure a similar level of noise exposure for the teens, there were two blocks of seats within close range of each other. The seats were located in front of the stage at the far end of the venue approximately 15-18 rows up from the floor.

The importance of using hearing protection was explained to the teenagers. Researchers then offered hearing protection and encouraged to use foam ear plugs. However, only three teenagers chose to do so.

Using a calibrated sound pressure meter, 1,645 measurements of sound decibel levels (dBA) were recorded during the 26 songs played during the three hour concert. The sound levels ranged from 82-110 dBA, with an average of 98.5 dBA. The mean level was greater than 100 dBA for 10 of the 26 songs.

The decibel levels experienced at the concert exceeded that which is allowable in the workplace, according to the American Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). One-third of the teen listeners showed a temporary threshold shift that would not be acceptable in adult workplace environments.

Following the concert, the majority of the study participants were also found to have a significant reduction in the Distortion Product Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) test. This test checks the function of the tiny outer hair cells in the inner ear which are crucial for our hearing. With exposure to loud noise, the outer hair cells show a reduction in their ability to function, which may later recover. However, it is known that with repeated exposure to loud noise, the tiny hair cells may become permanently damaged.

Safer sound levels

“Teenagers need to understand a single exposure to loud noise, either from a concert or personal listening device, can lead to hearing loss,” said M. Jennifer Derebery, MD, lead author and physician at the House Clinic. “With multiple exposures to noise over 85 decibels, the tiny hair cells may stop functioning and the hearing loss may be permanent.”

 “Only 3 of our 29 teens chose to use ear protection, even when it was given to them and they were encouraged to do so. 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”, she said.

The researchers recommend teenagers and young adults take an active role in protecting their hearing by utilising a variety of sound meter ‘apps’ available for smart phones. The sound meters will give a rough estimate of the noise level allowing someone to take the necessary steps to protect their hearing such as wearing ear plugs at a concert.

In addition, Derebery and the study co-authors would like to see concert promoters and the musicians themselves take steps to lower sound levels as well as encourage young concert goers to use hearing protection.

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Temporary hearing loss

The hearing loss that may be experienced after a pop- or rock concert is not generally believed to be permanent. It is called a temporary threshold shift and usually disappears within 16-48 hours, after which a person's hearing returns to previous levels.  But exposure to loud music and noise may also cause a permanent hearing loss.

The study was funded through the House Research Institute's national teen hearing loss prevention initiative and was published in Otology & Neurotology.



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