Did your ears go gaga after watching Lady Gaga?
MANILA, Philippines - Did you attend Monday night's Lady Gaga in Manila concert?
Don't be surprised if you suffered some amount of hearing loss afterwards.
Exposure to loud noises such as the level you are subjected to in a pop rock concert could temporarily result in reduced hearing ability, a new study indicates.
This should not be worrisome if you do not make a habit of listening to loud music or attending noisy concerts. However, repeated exposure to the same noise levels could result in permanent damage, the same study warns.
The study, which has been accepted for publication in an upcoming issue of Otology & Neurotology showed that 72 % of teenagers who who attended a pop rock performance by a popular female singer experienced reduced hearing ability following the event. (In case you are wondering, the press release concerning the study did not indicate who the performer was.)
Permanent damage with multiple exposure
“Teenagers need to understand a single exposure to loud noise either from a concert or personal listening device can lead to hearing loss,” M. Jennifer Derebery, a Clinic physician at the House Research Institute and lead author of the study said.
The hearing loss that may be experienced after a pop rock concert is not generally believed to be permanent, study results indicated.
Called a "temporary threshold shift," the hearing loss usually disappears within 16-48 hours, after which a person’s hearing returns to previous levels.
Derebery warned, however, that multiple exposures could result in permanent damage.
“With multiple exposures to noise over 85 decibels, the tiny hair cells may stop functioning and the hearing loss may be permanent.”
How the study was conducted
The study was presented at a meeting of the American Otologic Society meeting on April 21, 2012 by M. Jennifer Derebery, a Clinic physician at the House Research Institute which tested the teens’ hearing before and after a concert.
In the study, 29 teenagers were given free tickets to a rock concert.
To ensure a similar level of noise exposure for the teens, they were seated in two blocks of seats within close range of each other. The seats were located in front of the stage at the far end of the venue approximately 15-18 rows up from the floor. Parental consent was obtained for all of the underage study participants.
Researchers explained the importance of using hearing protection the participating teenagers. They were offered hearing protection and encouraged to use foam ear plugs.
However, only 3 of the teenagers who participated in the study chose to do so.
Above prescribed sound limits for workplaces
During the performance, 3 adult researchers sat with the teenagers.
Using a calibrated sound pressure meter, 1,645 measurements of sound decibel (dBA) levels were recorded during the 26 songs played during the three hour concert. The sound levels ranged from 82-110 dBA, with an average of 98.5 dBA. The mean level was greater than 100 dBA for 10 of the 26 songs.
These decibel levels are above the safe listening guidelines that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) prescribes for the typical workplace.
The OSHA safe listening guidelines limits for exposures to sound levels of 85 dB and greater in the workplace.
The volumes recorded during the concert would have violated OSHA standards in less than 30 minutes.
In fact, 1/3 of the teen listeners showed a temporary threshold shift that would not be acceptable in adult workplace environments.
Sensitive hair cells
While hearing reduction from one-time exposure is only temporary, repeated exposure-- the researchers warned--could result in permanent damage.
Following the concert, the majority of the study participants also were found to have a significant reduction in the Distortion Product Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) test.
This test checks the function of the tiny outer hair cells in the inner ear that are believed to be the most vulnerable to damage from prolonged noise exposure, and are
* crucial to normal hearing
* the ability to hear soft (or low level sounds), and
* the ability to understand speech, especially in noisy environments.
With exposure to loud noise, the outer hair cells show a reduction in their ability to function. They may later recover. It is known, however, that with repeated exposure to loud noise, the tiny hair cells may become permanently damaged.
Further, recent animal research suggests that a single exposure to loud noise may result in permanent damage to the hearing nerve connections themselves that are necessary to hear sound.
Following the concert, 53.6 percent of the teens said they did not think they were hearing as well after the concert.
Twenty-five percent reported they were experiencing tinnitus or ringing in their ears, which they did not have before the concert.
Researchers are especially concerned, because in the most recent government survey on health in the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2005-2006, 20% of adolescents were found to have at least slight hearing loss, a 31% increase from a similar survey done from 1988-1994.
The findings of the study clearly indicate more research is necessary to determine if the guidelines for noise exposure need to be revised for teenagers. More research is also needed to determine if teenager’s ears are more sensitive to noise than adults.
Managing sound levels in concerts
“It also means we definitely need to be doing more to ensure the sound levels at concerts are not so loud as to cause hearing loss and neurological damage in teenagers, as well as adults,” said Derebery.
“Only 3 of our 29 teens chose to use ear protection, even when it was given to them and they were encouraged to do so. We have to assume this is typical behavior for most teen listeners, so we have the responsibility to get the sound levels down to safer levels,” Derebery noted.
Researchers recommend teenagers and young adults take an active role in protecting their hearing by utilizing a variety of sound meter ‘apps’ available for smart phones.
The sound meters will give a rough estimate of the noise level allowing someone to take the necessary steps to protect their hearing such as wearing ear plugs at a concert.
In addition, Derebery and the study co-authors would like to see concert promoters and the musicians themselves take steps to lower sound levels as well as encourage young concert goers to use hearing protection.
The study was funded through the House Research Institute’s national teen hearing loss prevention initiative, It’s How You Listen that Counts, as part of its Sound Partners hearing conservation education program. The institute provides teen prevention information at www.earbud.org.
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