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A Safety Guide To Decibel Levels And How To Stop Hearing Loss Before It's Too Late
Who among us hasn’t come home from a long night with a little ringing in the ears? And if you’re in the music industry, those nights are more frequent than not. Worse yet, that ringing can linger and get worse before it gets better. If you find yourself frequently having to ask someone to come closer or repeat what they said so you can hear them better, this safety guide is for you.
First, it's important to understand how sound is measured and where everyday sounds rank on the measurement scale. Sounds are measured in waves, which are quantified by decibels(dB), with 0 dB signaling near silence and the softest sound that humans can hear by ear. According to hearing solutions company Miracle-Ear, a whisper measures in at about 30 db, normal conversations are about 60 db, movie theaters range between 80 to 100 db, and live music tops all common sounds with a range of 100 to 115 db.
For further comparison, the Hearing Health Foundation slots live music decibel levels somewhere in between a jackhammer and a thunderclap. But unlike a jackhammer or thunderclap, concerts don't last mere seconds and aren't sounds people try to stay as far away from as possible.
While decibels are a key quantifier when determining whether you're at risk of hearing damage, that measurement is just one of three keys to figuring out when sounds should be considered dangerous. In addition to how loud the sound is (decibels), the important factors to remember are how close the sound is (proximity), and how long you’re exposed to the noise (time).
If nothing else from this guide sticks, when assessing loud environments, remember the acronym DPT (decibels, proximity, time), and the corny joke that accompanies it: Doctor of Physical Therapy, as in, "I wish I could visit a physical therapist for hearing damage, but, sadly, the effects are irreversible."
Frequent exposure to sounds above 85 decibels can lead to permanent damage. In fact, over 15 minutes of sounds at 100 decibels or just one minute of sounds at 110 decibels could result in permanent hearing loss. The time needed to produce that damage decreases even more exponentially for every 10 decibel increase.
This leaves musicians, crew members, artists, and anyone else who makes a living off live music especially susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss.
According to scientists at the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology and a study of over 7 million health insurance records, professional musicians are nearly four times more likely to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss than the average person, and about 57 percent suffer from constant ringing in their ears, a condition known as tinnitus.
So how can musicians and other live music professionals continue to earn a living without the full risk of irreversible hearing damage?
Recognizing when decibel levels are too loud is the first step. There are several professional-grade sound meter apps available for free in the app store, including Decibel X and NIOSH Sound Level Meter App. By using your phone's microphone to record as little as three seconds of surrounding audio, you're able to take the first step in protecting your ears from harmful noise levels.
If the noise level registers in dangerous territory, protecting your ears can be as simple as taking one step back. (Remember, DPT.) Just one step back decreases your proximity to the noise and your chances of hearing loss.
If lowering the sound levels or moving farther away from the source isn't possible or applicable, earplugs are the best solution. As part of their year-round hearing protection program for music industry professionals, MusiCares has offered free custom-fit earplugs to professionals across the country since 2014. MusiCares hosts hearing clinics at festivals, concert venues and music companies throughout the year, and the custom molding process takes no longer than 10 minutes.
Click here to learn more about how MusiCares is battling hearing loss in the music community.