Earplugs should be provided at concerts to lessen noise-induced hearing loss

In 2018 Health Issue, Opinion

Concerts are the best events known to man; people stand in the crowd watching their idols perform right before their very eyes. The musician on stage isn’t just another Google search or a dancing figure on a computer screen, they are real life. The audience is a part of the musician’s world now, even if it’s only for a few hours. But how much are people willing to put on the line for a good time and experience a show with all its ear-ringing impairment?

Listening to music too loudly damages ears, which is probably why elevators don’t include subwoofers. Earplugs are essential for loud outings like nightclubs or concerts, yet at least 10 million adults in the U.S. under the age of 70 have hearing loss in one or both ears due to loud noise, according to a 2012 study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

People are exposed to a safe level of noise everyday, whether it comes from the background noise of traffic or the sounds of a new television episode. But noise-induced hearing loss is much more serious than that. This disorder can affect people who experience an intense one-time exposure, or persistent loud noise for a long period of time. The louder the noise, the more likely it is to develop noise-induced hearing loss at a faster rate.

Tinnitus isn’t just a made-up phenomenon or fairytale, or a story that moms tell their children to put them to sleep. Tinnitus is a constant ringing in a person’s ear. Those with tinnitus can have it for a short amount of time or for the rest of their lives, depending on how severely damaged their ears are. Although tinnitus isn’t a disorder, it is an underlying symptom of a potentially worse disorder like hearing loss.

People who attend concerts are not the only ones who need to be aware. The musicians who woo crowds need to take care of themselves as well. Artists play a couple of feet away from blaring speakers as they perform in front of roaring crowds every night on tours.

Musicians who actually wore earplugs during their performances reported that “improved sound clarity in ensembles, are discreet, and are easy to handle,” according to a 2017 study by Medical Problems of Performing Artists. Researchers from the same study also said the use of earplugs promotes long-term hearing protection and decreased levels of pain and fatigue.

If musicians reported advantages to earplugs, then what makes the average concertgoer so different? People are stubborn. They’re too big-headed to protect themselves because they think, “That won’t happen to me.” So if people won’t protect themselves, then perhaps the next step is for venues to take the health of their customers into consideration, rather than slowly depriving guests of what they love most.

In a 2015 study of 955 individuals from over six concerts, researchers gave free earplugs to 318 participants while the rest were not provided any free ear protection. By the end of the experiment, earplug usage increased from 1.3 percent to 8.2 percent when ear protection was given to concertgoers at the entrance of the venue. This is a significant difference considering 8.2 percent was achieved without any public health message or educated campaign, according to the International Journal of Audiology.

If venue owners did their part to help protect the ears of thousands of individuals, then perhaps fewer adults would experience hearing loss. Some areas are already picking up on these harmful trends.

Minneapolis is a step ahead of the game with a city ordinance passed in April 2014 that affects about 185 bars, clubs and venues. It is mandatory for these businesses to start providing earplugs free of charge to their customers, and they must have a noise reduction of at least 12 decibels.

While Minneapolis is slowing taking responsibility for its residents, it’s time for concertgoers to do the same for themselves. If not, then those same people will regret their decisions later when they have to deal with the constant ringing of tinnitus or even worse, complete loss of hearing.

But it also needs to be a community effort to inform young adults through education programs. Eventually, they will develop the habit of using earplugs more frequently. Because what’s worse, wearing discrete earplugs for a couple of hours, or adjusting the levels on a hearing aid at 23 years old?

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