Live music concerts and music festivals have made a welcome return to our cultural landscape, yet it’s important to remember that loud music still poses a major threat to our hearing ability!
How Loud Is Too Loud?
Sound that reaches 70 dBA (decibels A-weighted) or lower is considered safe for any listening period. This is about the volume of a group conversation. But once levels reach 85 dBA—about the noise produced by a gas-powered lawn mower—hearing loss can set in after about 8 hours.
For every additional 3 dBA of noise, the safe period of exposure is cut in half. That means by the time sound levels reach 100 dBA—about the noise level we experience while riding a motorcycle—hearing loss sets in after only a few minutes.
As sound gets louder, it reaches a point at which any exposure at all causes hearing loss, around 120 dBA. It’s critically important to protect our ears any time we are going to be exposed to these levels of sound, and being up close to a large PA speaker at a concert or festival can be just such a situation.
Even when we’re not standing directly in front of the speakers, concerts and festivals can throw off incredibly damaging amounts of sound. Sometimes a concert in a small club, if the level is loud enough, can be more damaging than a huge outdoor festival, assuming we are far enough away from the sound source.
How Should We Protect Ourselves?
Hearing protection comes in several varieties. The two main categories are earplugs and earmuffs. For some activities, like shooting firearms, it may be necessary to wear both in order to provide adequate protection. For other situations, needs may vary.
Earplugs come in three main varieties: custom, disposable, and over-the-counter reusable.
Custom Hearing Protection
Custom earplugs are the best-sounding, best-fitting, and most comfortable option among earplugs. They can fit a variety of attenuators for differing needs, and provide such an accurate representation of the frequency spectrum that it is possible to forget you have them in!
To be fitted for custom earplugs, it is necessary to take a direct 3D scan or a foam impression of your ear canal. The scans or impressions are then sent to the manufacturer, who uses specialized equipment to produce a soft silicone plug that fits your ear perfectly.
Specialized custom musician’s earplugs feature sound reduction filters which come in different options intended for various levels of music exposure. These filters reduce amplified sounds while preserving the natural qualities of music.
If you’re interested in custom hearing protection, our team at Mt. Hood is here to help! Contact us today to schedule a consultation and take charge of your hearing health!
Disposable earplugs are most commonly made out of a compressible foam material. You squeeze the earplug and insert it into your ear before it expands back to its normal size. Once it is expanded inside your ear canal, it can provide significant protection against noise.
Disposable earplugs are inexpensive and may be a good choice for those who do not regularly need hearing protection. They do have a few disadvantages. For one, you can only use them once. For two, they tend to attenuate high frequencies much more than low frequencies, creating an unbalanced and unnatural sound, which can make it harder to enjoy music while wearing them.
Over-the-Counter Reusable Earplugs
OTC reusables come in a variety of styles, though the most common is a one-size-fits-all silicone tip attached to a plastic attenuator body that also serves as a handle for insertion and removal. These can cost from $15–30 and last for years.
Reusable earplugs in general provide a better sound than disposables, and some boast that they maintain the balance between lows and highs, though these claims are somewhat exaggerated. Sound quality does indeed tend to be better than with disposables, but they still do not provide a perfectly accurate representation of the natural frequency spectrum.
Earmuffs are worn over the ears and feature a headband that helps them clamp tight to the sides of the head. Check the rating to make sure they provide enough attenuation (sound reduction) for your needs. Those who wear glasses may also not receive enough protection using earmuffs, as the temple piece on a pair of glasses can break the seal between the earmuffs and the head, allowing too much sound to leak in. Earmuffs are, however, usually a better choice for small children, as it can be hard to tell whether a child’s earplugs are inserted properly or not.
Earmuffs have the advantage that they are easy to take off and put on, so they are commonly used in workshops and job sites, where a loud sound may only happen for a few minutes before it is important to be able to hear the environmental sound again with unattenuated hearing.
Take the Steps to Protect Your Hearing
We like to remind our patients and clients that noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable! There’s no need to avoid the things you love to see, do, and hear, just to protect your hearing. Custom hearing protection is a wise investment to ensure that you can continue to enjoy your favorite bands or live sporting events without compromising your hearing health!
Contact us today to learn more!