It is that time of year again: the annual Oktoberfest. Where over 7 million people gather in Munich, drink beer and sing along to authentic Bavarian music. It is loud, proud and lots of fun. But at what cost to your hearing? In this article we look at the why and how to protect your hearing at a loud public event.
How noise exposure harms your hearing
There’s no doubt about it, loud noise can cause ear damage and subsequent hearing loss. The constant battering of sound begins to wear on your ears, damaging the cochlea. The cochlea is responsible for processing pitch and volume and when the cochlea fails to function, you fail to hear.
When is loud too loud?
Everyone’s definition of loud differs. If you live in a loud environment such as a busy city your ears become accustomed to generalised noise. This is dangerous as your ears have effectively become desensitised and this makes it harder to judge when loud is too loud. No one wants to carry around a decibel meter at a public event to test the sound levels (although there are some really great apps out there). Here’s a quick guide on how to estimate decibel volume:
- 70dB or lower: The normal level of conversation.
- 85dB: A little loud. Sounds louder than 85 dB risk damaging your hearing permanently so don’t stay in situations like this for longer than 8 hours.
- 90dB: Limit your time to two hours.
- 100dB: You have to shout to hear your conversational partner. Don’t stay longer than half an hour.
- over 100db: You cannot hear other people, even when shouting. The volume at a concert or festival can exceed 120 dB. Always wear protection in these situations.
Say what? Tips to protect your hearing at a large public event
No-one wants to give up their hobbies in fear of eventual hearing loss. Preventing hearing damage to your ears caused by these noisy environments, while still having fun, can be easily achieved. If you are planning on going to a noisy live event there are some simple steps you can take, ensuring you will enjoy the music for years to come.
- Use earplugs - Wearing earplugs helps to protect your hearing. Buy the right earplugs though - foam earplugs are not fitted and tend to be uncomfortable when wearing them for long periods. Even though they are cheap many people get frustrated and take them out, which defeats the purpose. For the best experience, you’re better off buying a pair of permanent earplugs for concert use, such as re-usable musicians' earplugs that reduce the volume of music but don't muffle it.
- Keep your distance - Being close to speakers can be fun, yet harmful too! Ringing in the ears and pain are first signs you’re too close. Move or stay far away from the loudest sound-producing source—such as loudspeakers or the stage—especially if attending with children.
- Take a break - Indoor concert venues for example can be very crowded and extremely loud. Don’t overexpose your ears. Your hearing will thank you for taking a break now and then by moving to quieter corners.
- Let your ears enjoy some recovery time - After any extreme it’s important to let your body recoup in its natural atmosphere and your hearing is no different. Give your hearing about 18 hours to recover after exposure to lots of loud noise. Your ears may feel sensitive at first but after 18 hours they should return to normal. The same can be said before attending a loud event. If you know you’ll be attending a loud event over the weekend, be gentle to your ears during the week before. If you usually listen to music or podcasts through earbuds, for instance, be sure to turn the volume down or consider skipping it in preparation for the big event.
- Get your hearing checked - If you are a music lover and spend lots of time at concerts, get your hearing checked frequently. In case you are experiencing symptoms like a ringing in the ears or even pain after a concert or festival following the normal recovery period, visit an audiologist. Professionals can accurately measure for any level of hearing loss and can suggest potential treatments.