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Have you ever left a concert hearing ringing in your ears? Maybe you tried to have a conversation with your companion but couldn’t hear over loud music, or you felt the bass line thump in your chest. Unfortunately, though you may enjoy yourself at concerts, you could be causing irreparable harm to your hearing. Here’s how to stay safe while still listening to the live music you love.

What’s happening in your ear?

When you listen to music, the sound travels into your ear canal on the way to the eardrum. It then has to pass through the small bones inside the middle of your ear to get to the inner ear, often called the cochlea. The cochlea is covered in thousands of tiny hairs that usually stand up straight, ready to vibrate and turn sounds into electrical currents for the brain to interpret. The top of the hairs, called the stereocilia, can bend and break, rendering that hair useless. When you listen to music that is 85 decibels or louder, you can damage these small hairs which will sadly never grow back.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders calls this noise-induced hearing loss. Many cases of noise-induced hearing loss happen slowly, over time, but introducing loud events, like concerts, into the mix can speed up the process.

Hearing protection: Why it’s important

Since the only remedy to hearing loss is hearing aids (or extensive surgery in extreme cases), the best course of action is prevention. You may not notice how deafening the music is at a live concert since you are wrapped up in the experience, but if your ears start ringing as soon as you leave, you have damaged your ears.

It can take the ringing up to 2 days to cease, though it may remain in the form of constant buzzing or whooshing sounds in the ear, called tinnitus. According to the Daily Herald, it can take just 1 booming concert experience to permanently harm your hearing.

Hearing protection: Earplugs at concerts and more

Now that you know the what and why of hearing loss at concerts, here’s the how. Prevention is as easy as:

  1. Choosing seats farther from speakers or the stage. It may seem like you’re getting a worse experience if you sit up in the nosebleeds, but you are doing your ears a favor. Many large arenas have video displays, so you won’t miss a thing!
  2. Leaving the concert arena for short breaks to allow your ears to rest. This gives you the opportunity to see if your ears are ringing. If this is the case, you should immediately adjust by distancing yourself from the loudest sounds, putting in earplugs, or leaving all together.
  3. Wearing earplugs or ear muffs. By blocking the sounds from entering your ear, or at least filtering out some, you protect your cochlear ear hairs from bending and breaking. If you wear hearing aids, consider ear muffs to go over the ear or turning down the volume. According to Musician on a Mission, the best earplugs for concert experiences are made by Etymotic, Alpine Hearing Protection, LiveMus!c, or Decibullz. If they’re good enough for a musician, they are good enough for the listeners! You can also consult your audiologist for a custom pair at a much higher cost.

Protect your ears from the brunt of the damage in the first place, and your hearing will thank you!

By: Diana Michel

Sources: NIDCD, Daily Herald, Musician on a Mission