It’s a generally accepted part of the concert experience: you’re walking out of the venue after the encore, and as you step out onto the street, every sound is muffled save for a buzzing in your ears, the aftereffects of standing next to a speaker for the better part of the evening. You’ll go home, sleep it off, and everything will be normal in the morning.
Unfortunately, you don’t always bounce back.
affects one in every five people and describes a constant ringing or buzzing sound that only the sufferer can hear. One of the most common causes is prolonged exposure to loud noise, which damages sensory cells in the ear and triggers them at random times, causing the brain to “hear” sound that doesn’t actually exist. Most of the time, this ringing lasts no more than 48 hours, but suffer from permanent tinnitus, which according to the Mayo Clinic can lead to . Besides tinnitus, musicians are at a of hearing loss than the average person. So whether playing or listening to music, here’s how to protect your ears for many years to come.
Step 1: Turn down the amp and step back from the rail.
The easiest solution, of course, is to accept that louder is not a synonym for better. Repeated exposure to noises over 85 decibels , and modern speaker systems pack a mightier punch than that: most pop and rock concerts hover around . For music you play, taking the volume down a couple of pegs is an easy solution, whereas standing farther away from the speaker system is the first line of defense at concerts.
Step 2: Wear earplugs.
Okay, fine: you want to be close enough to touch your favorite artist, and there’s no point in owning an amp that you can’t take up to eleven. The next best thing, then, is to buy a solid pair of earplugs for concerts and performances. For concertgoers and musicians alike, ($35) and ($29) selectively reduce noise by 20–30 decibels so that the music you want to hear still comes out clear, albeit a bit softer.
For those who are looking to perform long–term in music ensembles, especially jazz and rock, the best long–term option is to get custom–molded earplugs from a local audiologist, which can cost in the ballpark of $250–350.
Step 3: Monitor your listening.
Tinnitus and hearing loss result from a combination of volume and duration in listening. While modern iPhone models can achieve volumes of , this doesn’t mean you should use the volume button to its full potential: hearing damage can occur after of listening to music at your phone’s maximum volume. Researchers advise following the : listen for sixty minutes at 60% volume to protect your hearing.
Step 4: Buy smart.
Over–the–ear headphones are, as a general rule, safer for long–term listening: by being placed directly in your ear canal instead of over the outer ear, earbuds add about compared to headphones. They also require you to listen with both ears at one time, preventing the damage from . In a similar vein, though they are more expensive, noise–cancelling headphones will protect your ears in the long term: noise–cancelling and non–cancelling headphones at 70% volume will give the same decibel input to your ears, and you won’t be compelled to turn the volume up to combat ambient noise.
Step 5: Get professional testing.
While the casual music listener likely has nothing to worry about, frequent listeners, concertgoers, and musicians, as well as anyone who works in a noisy environment, should get a hearing exam done to check for damage and take added protective steps if needed. Just because you don’t notice hearing loss doesn’t mean it hasn’t begun, and early detection is the best prevention.
Remember, protecting your hearing now is the best way to ensure that you can keep listening for a lifetime.