Would you be willing to wear earplugs during a concert to prevent the tingling? If your answer is ‘No’ then you should because a research led by Dr. Wilko Grolman, Professor at University Medical Center, Utrecht, Netherlands states short term hearing loss caused by ‘recreational noises’, can be prevented by using ear plugs. Meaning the damage to your ears also called as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) caused by loud sounds blasting at concerts or music festivals can be prevented, if we wear the magical device called ear plugs.

The randomized, single-blind clinical trial was carried out at a music festival in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, with 51 adult volunteers recruited via social media. Nonsensically, ear plugs were successful in preventing temporary hearing loss by 92% after exposure to very loud music at social gatherings. But why is it that we are falling victim to hearing loss with an increasing frequency even though it is an avoidable problem?  The answer is simple; we as a society are part of a culture where loud recreational music is a symbol of celebration and gadgets such as high-definition speakers and headphones have raised damaging noise levels tenfold. The findings were published in JAMA.

Hearing loss is undoubtedly a growing global problem taking on the shape of an epidemic. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the hearing of more than 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults is at risk due to ‘unsafe use of personal audio devices’. Listening to loud music at concerts, festivals, nightclubs, bars and sporting events, along with smartphone use, can potentially devastate the ability to hear. WHO also predicts the rise of deafness can leave negative effects on both physical and mental health. About 20% of the American population, i.e., 48 million people, is reporting some degree of hearing loss. Hearing loss in adolescents has also increased by 31% from 1988 to 2006. Likewise, one out of three Americans lose their hearing power and become deaf by the time they are 65 with the two most common causes of deafness in the US being noise and age.

“The WHO in their report of March 2015 reveal some alarming statistics; 360 million people have disabling hearing loss,” says Dr Grolman, “In the acquired hearing loss group, excessive noise from personal audio devices and concert and festival visits has gained importance.”

The decibel (dB) is a unit used to measure the level of sound. The human ear can hear sounds as low as 20 dB or as high as 120 dB, but 80-85 dB is the limit where sounds stop being safe for the ear.

While talking to CBS News, Sharon A Sandridge, PhD, Director of the Audiology Clinical Services, Head and Neck Institute at Cleveland Clinic, stated, “85 dBA [the weighted decibel] is considered the cut-off between safe and potentially unsafe loudness levels.”

Take the example of a normal conversation whose noise is considered to be 40 dB to 60 dB, while a music concert can be up to 110 dB or 120 dB while the sound level right in front of the speakers can be 140 dB. The maximum volume headphones can produce is also a damaging 105 dB. However, keep in mind that only listening to music does not cause long-term hearing loss and deafness, but the loudness, duration, frequency and type of music being listened to also pose risks of damaging the ear.

“It is important to understand that there is a trade-off. It is not just the loudness that is a factor, it is how loud and for how long a person is listening to the sound,” said Sandridge.

The ear is an extremely sensitive part of the human anatomy with the inner part consisting of numerous tiny hair cells also known as nerve endings. These tiny hair cells, responsible for carrying sounds in the form of nerve signals to the brain, can be damaged by loud sounds. Furthermore, the resultant ringing or buzzing in ears after listening to loud music is called tinnitus, which is a symptom of damage in the ear.

Certain population groups are at an increased risk of suffering from hearing loss and ultimately deafness. These groups include people with a family history of hearing loss, professional musicians, sound crew, workers at night clubs or music festivals, concert attendees, frequent users of portable music devices, e.g., headphones or ear buds.

The best possible way to prevent short-term hearing loss and for lowering the risk of long-term is to avoid loud noises or music. Giving the ears a break during a loud gathering or some frequent headphone use is the best possible option. This can also be easily achieved by using ear protection such as ear plugs. Different types of noise blocking earplugs are available in the market including foam or silicone earplugs, which muffle sound to protect against damage.