Live music events and hearing loss. Erica du Toit

Across the world, 3 March is recognised as World Hearing Day, where attention is focussed on taking care of our hearing and prevention of hearing loss.  Globally over 360 million people experience hearing loss, making it imperative that we pay attention and protect our hearing.

The South African statistics are alarming.  6% of people between the ages of 35 and 44 have hearing loss, 14% of those aged between 45 and 64, 1 out of 3 people over 65 and 2 out of 3 people over 75.  You can see that the incidence of hearing loss more than doubles between each age group.  The causes can be attributed as acoustic trauma (33,7%), age (28%), infection or injury (17,1%), other (16,8%) or born with hearing loss (4,4%).

Hearing loss has traditionally been regarded as an older person’s issue, but these statistics show that that is no longer true.  Not by any means.  The leading cause of hearing loss in South Africa presently is acoustic trauma, or loud noise.

And this brings me to the topic of my article.

Only a couple of weeks ago, the well-known and loved Scandinavian rock group A-HA played to huge audiences in Cape Town and Johannesburg, while at least 10 other international groups will be coming to our shores during this year.  While these shows place us on the international music scene circuit and are brilliant for tourism, we need to be aware of the dangers of loud sounds.

There is a reason that hearing loss begins occurring in our 30s and 40s and a large part of that is the consequence of listening to loud music in our teens and twenties.  Yes, your mother was right when she repeatedly had to shout: “Turn that music down; do you want to lose your hearing?”

This kind of hearing loss happens very slowly; so slowly that you don’t realise it is happening until the damage is done and cannot be reversed.  Sadly, the list of rock stars presenting with hearing loss is growing; The Who guitarist Pete Townshend and singer Roger Daltry, Eric Clapton, Ozzy Osbourne, Chris Martin of Coldplay, James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich of Metallica, Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, and Sting.  Sting has since become an ambassador for the Hear the World Foundation.

It is important to know that the louder the sound levels, the shorter the time you should be exposed to the sound.  This means that at a concert which averages 110dB, just 2 minutes exposure is sufficient to cause irreparable hearing damage.

Of course, it isn’t only these concerts that are dangerous.  Noise levels are loud in factory settings, your local gym, rave parties, restaurants, shopping malls, airports, motoX events, in-theatre shows and many others.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t ever go to a live concert?   No, of course not, but we must be aware of how loud is too loud and practice ways in which to decrease our exposure and use hearing protection measures.  These include –

  • Use reusable musician’s ear plugs which reduce the volume of the music but don’t muffle it, or noise-cancelling earphones;
  • Give your ears a break every 15 minutes;
  • Give your hearing 18 hours to fully recover after exposure to lots of loud noise;
  • Turn the sound down if you can,
  • Have your hearing tested by an audiologist at least every 3 years.

Our ears and hearing are delicate and need to be protected.  Yes, hearing aids, cochlear implants and other assistive hearing technologies are available and can be extremely successful, but they can never replace your natural hearing.

NOTE: The Western Cape Association for Persons with Disabilities is able to provide support and referrals for anyone experiencing hearing loss, so please contact me at the details below should you wish to make use of our services.

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