Healthy Ears = Better Years
I remember that regrettable night at 21 years old that changed everything.
An acquaintance of mine, in hopes of finding a new drummer for his band, brought me to a rehearsal space to audition. They played hard rock/metal that kicked your adrenaline into high gear with a deafening wall of sound. I had to bring it.
Although I knew the music genre wasn’t for me, I stuffed down my lack of enthusiasm and unleashed my inner beast that night. Hour after hour, I thrashed the hell out of those drums. As the amplifiers growled and squealed incessantly in my face, I roared right back with a barrage of crashing cymbals. The intensity never ceased, but instead grew to heights I’d never risked before.
Faster, louder, harder, louder, faster, louder, harder, faster, louder, LOUDER, LOUDER!
And then it was over.
With my hands blistered, heart pounding and ears ringing, I could barely hear anything for the rest of the night. “This sucks”, I thought, “but no worries, it’ll be gone by tomorrow”.
When I woke up, the ringing was still there and all external sound was muffled.
Day after day, it didn’t disappear but instead lessened in intensity. Depression set in. “I’m going to have this for the rest of my life” I repeated in my head every day. I obsessed over the realization that I did this to myself and could have prevented it. Like a weirdo, I would sit alone in “silence” for what seemed like hours fixated on the ringing, falling further into hopelessness.
It doesn’t feel good knowing you’ve permanently damaged your hearing for life. There’s no fix. Once it’s done, it’s done.
To this day, the ringing hasn’t stopped - it’s called tinnitus. It’s estimated that about 10-15% of the human population is affected, but I always assume a greater percentage from any study’s estimates due to many people never reporting their issues (I’ve never reported my tinnitus).
You definitely don’t want this condition.
Although it can be caused by numerous things like TMD/TMJ (jaw joint issues), older age, medications and other stuff, a universal and common cause is exposure to loud noise. And who hasn’t been exposed to loud noise? Uh, no one.
I’d guess that concerts and clubs are the biggest culprit in damaging our ears. You may not have tinnitus from your booty-shaking nights out, but every time we’re exposed to insanely loud noise levels, we’re compounding the damage done to our ears. Whether this leads to all-out tinnitus or a slow deterioration of our hearing over years and/or decades, it’s an issue that not a lot of us are aware of.
Just like most people, when I went to concerts and clubs, I never thought about the negative and permanent consequences associated with loud music. It was time to dance! Sure, it seemed too loud at times and would hurt my ears, but how else was I to turn up? I wanted to feel the music enveloping me like a warm, oversized blanket of audial bliss.
Mmmmmmm, so warm and fuzzy.
But herein lies the problem: even if we know how detrimental loud music is for us, who wants to turn it down when we want to turn up?
It’s like, we all know that alcohol is completely terrible and unhealthy for us, but who’s going to stop drinking? Unless you’re an alcoholic, then yes, please stop drinking. But no one’s going to give up loud music - it’s essential for the full expression of our concert and club identities.
Given this shitty conundrum, what are our options?
If I’m being real, it comes down to 2 options:
Expose ourselves less to dangerously loud music.
Make no changes and be okay with permanently damaging our ears.
The Good News: The extent of damage depends on the amount of exposure time and decibel levels, which we can control.
WHAT TO DO
If you’re convinced that it’s time to cherish the miracle of sound, then check it out:
In questionable situations, it’s important that we know what decibel levels we’re being exposed to. There are 2 great level reading apps for our phones:
NIOSH Sound Level Meter
I use both in tandem to make sure I get accurate readings.
Loud music through earbuds/headphones can be just as bad as clubs and concerts. Use the 60/60 rule: play music at no more than 60% of maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes a day.
If others around you can hear your music, it’s too loud.
If you need to substantially raise your voice to talk and can’t hear someone talking 3 feet away from you, it’s too loud.
Wear headphones instead of earbuds when possible. "Earbuds can increase the sound intensity reaching your inner ear by as much as 9 decibels when compared to over-the-ear headphones," says Tahl Colen, an otolaryngologist (a physician who deals with diseases and injuries of the ears, nose, and throat) in New York City. “Earbuds also filter out less outside noise than traditional over-the-ear headphones. Therefore, people have a tendency to increase volume more with earbuds to compete against external sounds, resulting in higher listening volumes and higher risk of long-term hearing damage.”
Clearly, as decibel levels increase, our exposure time should decrease.
Example: Let’s say you’re listening to music for 30 minutes. According to NIOSH (The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), a safe decibel level for that amount of time is 97 decibels. Any time over that, you risk hearing damage.
Be aware of decibel levels. Clubs and concerts generally measure around 100-115 decibels. Looking at NIOSH’s guidelines, 100 decibels puts a safe amount of exposure time at just 15 minutes. 15 minutes! There’s no safe exposure time for 115 decibels, so get the hell outta there, crazy! Actually, you may have 28 seconds.
Don’t dance or stand near the speakers. Keep a good distance away from any loud noise source. Guys, this includes the girl yelling at you because you’re a creep and tried to dance up on her without consent. Come on dude, it’s 2019.
Take breaks. At a club, head to the bar in the corner that’s less loud, go to the bathroom, go outside to vape/smoke…wait, don’t do that, that’s bad. Um, talk to the bouncer, walk around or look at the stars (unless you’re in LA, then look at the light pollution). At a concert you can go to the bathroom or head to the bar if one exists. Essentially, walk anywhere you can that’s less intense to give your ears some rest.
Wear earplugs. The cheap foam ones suck, so go with high tech ones like EarPeace. I use these and they’re great. They don’t completely drown out the music and still allow for sound to enter the ear.
If you take these precautions, you’re golden. Don’t be me and screw up your hearing, it’s far too precious and amazing to lose.
Be safe out there y’all, and always wear protection.
Concert Ear Plugs