by Jan L. Mayes, MSc, Audiologist

This article in Hypebot is yet another that asserts 85 decibels (dB) as point at which a noise level poses risk to musicians. It’s true that music-induced hearing loss is permanent, painless, and preventable, but here are some corrections:

  1. If loud enough, only a minute or two of loud noise could cause permanent hearing damage.
  2. Temporary ringing in the ears (tinnitus) or muffled hearing (temporary threshold shift) after a concert means permanent hearing damage. It means increased risk of permanent tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss from repeated unprotected music exposure.

Damage centers on the auditory nerve first, with degeneration continuing after the concert even without any inner ear hair cell damage. This causes distorted pitch and intensity perception even when hearing thresholds test within the normal range. Repeated unprotected music exposure will cause hair cell damage, measurable hearing loss, and more sound distortion.

It is well established that 8% of unprotected workers with 85 dBA (A-weighted decibels*) daily 8-hour average noise exposure will develop material hearing impairment. For the public, the risk from any exposure or hazard should be 1 in ten thousand to 1 in a million. Public noise exposure limits are based on daily 24-h average noise exposures. In public health, 70 dBA is the limit to prevent noise-induced hearing loss in adults.

It’s true that the higher the sound level, the shorter the listening time it takes for hearing damage. But our ears must process the total incoming sound energy in real time. Our auditory nerves and hair cells don’t average sound energy over listening time.

Even though the hearing health risk is actually worse than described, the article’s practical steps to hearing protection still apply for audiences and musicians.

People should protect their hearing each and every time they’re exposed to loud music (or any loud noise). It’s the only way to maintain the high fidelity of our natural hearing system so music keeps sounding clear and awesome.

*A-weighting adjusts the frequencies in decibel measurements to reflect the frequencies heard in human speech.

Jan L. Mayes is an international Eric Hoffer Award winning author in Non-Fiction Health. She is also a science enthusiast and newly retired audiologist still specializing in noise, tinnitus-hyperacusis, and hearing health. You can read more of Jan’s work at her site, www.janlmayes.com.