hearing protection

Hyped Up Now, Hurting Later

By Yishane Lee and Lauren McGrath

In an interview, longtime healthcare professional Bob Kambic warns about the health risks of the over-amplification that is becoming increasingly common at recreational events.

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What got you interested in the topic of the dangers of loud entertainment?
I am 75 and a grandfather. Recently I was in Detroit for an event in which my grandchildren participated. The finale of the event was held in Ford Stadium, a football venue. The electronically amplified sound was deafening even wearing my noise-canceling headphones.

The 30,000 or so people in the stadium were subject to what in other places would be called torture. I wondered, is there a way to tell the organizers they are harming our young citizens, the future of our country?

As a retired healthcare professional, I have a half century of experience in the healthcare field and more than 50 publications in peer-reviewed journals. This got me thinking about noise levels in entertainment venues. Raising awareness of this public health problem needs to be done.

Why is the music so loud?
Consider a musician playing an electric guitar in front of a crowd. She will hear her music from an amplifier. But she then finds that she likes it loud and turns the small knob up. After weeks or months that level is not satisfactory and she makes another turn up.

Over time, as the louder sounds gradually diminish hearing, it becomes necessary to turn the knob up more and more. For music professionals, this is called increasing the gain, which is one way to increase the volume of sound from the speakers. The other way to increase volume is to turn up the signal coming out of the speakers themselves.

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When musicians play to big crowds they now have amplifiers and systems that produce thousands of watts of power and can project over 100 decibels (dB). This technology is also used for recorded music. It “entertains” but it also may harm the listeners’ ears. Musicians and their producers know that “loudness does not equal quality”—but that caution can get lost in the need to entertain.

By 2022, live music industry revenue is projected to be worth $31 billion worldwide, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. Like other industries, the money is the driver. To me this means the live music industry will continue to use larger and louder electronic amplification.

The electronically amplified sound is now also ubiquitous at rallies and sporting events, both professional and collegiate—or even younger—to hype up the crowd.

What can we do to protect our hearing, and especially the hearing of children?
Earplugs. I was happy to see an article in a music industry publication saying that the purchase of custom musician’s earplugs is one of the best investments a music industry worker can make. They didn’t recommend earphones, mixers, digital equipment, or music instruments—just earplugs. Frequent concert-goers should also invest in custom musician’s earplugs.

For children, this is a tough question because kids don’t want to be told what to listen to and how loud the sound should be. But there are a variety of products for hearing protection. The first are simple foam earplugs, widely available at hardware stores, pharmacies, and online. The disadvantage is that they must be pushed into the ear canal and may not fit all size ears. (See “8 Pairs of Earplugs in 4 Noisy Settings,” next page.)

The next step up is over-the-ear earmuffs that cover the ear entirely. They are long-lasting and work well but they are also big and bulky.

Finally there are noise-canceling headphones made by audio or electronic equipment manufacturers. I use battery-powered noise-canceling headphones on airplanes and trains, and was wearing them at the event at the Ford Stadium. You may want to explore the varying prices and technology. Many can also play personal music through wireless and/or wired connections.

Besides using hearing protection, what else can you do?
Take action against unnecessary noise. Groups of parents can petition their schools and sports teams to reduce amplification at indoor and outdoor events. Decibel meters are inexpensive or free as smartphone apps and can be used to show managers and administrators the sound level at events, and when the volume reaches dangerous levels at over 85 dB.

The music and electronic sound industry is in control of this problem because of the amount of money in the industry, but also because well-known musicians such as Huey Lewis and Eric Clapton, who are open about their hearing loss, are helping to raise awareness. Media coverage and local action can bring attention to bear, and over time the industry may become aware of amplification as a health problem for everyone, including the audience, not just for those in the industry.

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Bob (Robert T.) Kambic, MSH, is a retired health professional who worked at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is a current visiting scientist with the JHU Medical School Division of Health Sciences Informatics and plays and sings American traditional music using acoustic instruments.

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How to Create a Healthy Hearing Environment for Children

By Alyson McBryde

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“How many times do I have to repeat myself?” If you’re a parent or guardian, chances are you’ve said this to your child before. Indeed, a part of parenting is repeating yourself―but what if it becomes part of a bigger issue?

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated “1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss due to the unsafe use of personal audio devices including smartphones, and exposure to damaging levels of sound in noisy entertainment venues such as nightclubs, bars, and sporting events.”

The WHO indicates “unsafe levels of sound can be, for example, exposure to in excess of 85 decibels (dB) for eight hours of 100 dB for 15 minutes.” Exposure to dangerously loud sounds could damage the sensitive structures of our inner ear and lead to permanent hearing loss. Here’s the thing about noise-induced hearing loss: it is 100% preventable.  

As a parent or guardian, you can implement fun and effective hearing loss prevention activities and strategies like these:

Lead a Learning Experience
Look for science videos and activities that demonstrate how sound, the ear, and hearing work. Great examples include Hearing Health Foundation (HHF)’s interactive, captioned video, Kids Health, and The Magic School Bus.

Watch Out for Noisy Toys
A study on sounds emitted by children’s toys found “the average sound levels of the various toys were 106.8 dB measured at a point nearest the sound source,” according to ASHA. Use a decibel-measuring app to check out your kids’ toys before they play.

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Limit Time with Electronics
NBC News reports: “Each new generation of teenagers has found a new technology to blast music – from the bulky headphones of the 1960s to the handheld Sony Walkmans of the 1980s. Today’s young people are listening longer, more than twice as long as previous generations.” Remember when our elders told us to “go outside and play”? Encourage your kids to do the same.

Turn Down the Volume
Enforce the 60-60 rule: Allow your child to listen at 60% volume for 60 minutes at a time. Look into apps that allow you to set parental controls on volume levels and encourage your kids to take a break from nonstop sound! 

Beware of Noise Levels at Live Events
Did you know a live ballgame can reach 120 decibels? Live sporting events can be extremely dangerous for little ears. The same goes for live music shows. Bring along a pair of foam or custom-made earplugs!

Keep Those Little Ears Warm
If you live in a place with cold winters, make sure you kids have earmuffs or hats that cover their ears. Cold air may affect hearing with exostosis, known as “surfer’s ear,” which happens when abnormal bone growths interfere with the auditory process.

Swim Safely
During the summer, while attending swim lessons, or on vacation, protect your kids’ ears with swim plugs. Swim plugs help to prevent swimmer’s ear, or otitis externa, caused by bacteria inside the ear canal, which can lead to trouble hearing.

Treat Ear Infections Immediately
Kids experience ear infections far more regularly than adults due to the size and positioning of their Eustachian tubes. Seeking immediate treatment from an ear-nose-throat (ENT) specialist for otitis media―ear infections―could help prevent hearing loss in kids.

Invest in Earplugs
Whether they are made of generic foam or are custom-molded to fit in their ears, earplugs are a great barrier between little ears and dangerous levels of sound. Carry a pair wherever you go―you never know when you may need them! 

Get Their Hearing Tested
Hearing health should be treated no differently than any other part of your kids’ overall health. In the same way your kids get a full physical and vision test annually, build a hearing test into the routine! Hearing tests keep track of your kids’ hearing abilities, and if anything changes, your hearing health professional can help find a solution.

Alyson McBryde leads the customer success team for HearStore.

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