Hearing Loss

From T In The Park to hearing aids: The health risks of festivals


How often have you accused a loved one of having selective hearing? Perhaps it’s more apparent when you ask them to take out the rubbish. But what if it wasn’t a sly tactic to get out of doing household chores? What if they really had problems hearing you?

‘Hearing loss is now not just something associated with the elderly,’ says Boots audiologist Alan Pretty. ‘We are seeing more youngsters coming in with hearing problems caused by things such as MP3 players, concerts and festivals.’

Emma Harrison, of Action On Hearing Loss (formerly RNID), says the charity’s research has uncovered a worrying attitdute among young people.

‘We found people think they are toughening up their ears by standing next to loud music,’ she says. ‘People aren’t that aware of their hearing and it’s only when they lose it they realise they’ve actually done some damage – and by then it’s too late.’

So how high does the sound level have to be before it’s dangerous?

Wendy Davies, national sales and audiology manager at Siemens Hearing Instruments, says the volume of music played at concerts and festivals will vary but most likely average around 110 decibels. ‘By way of a comparison, a normal conversation is 60 to 65dB and a high volume is classified as more than 80dB, a level similar to standing at the side of a very busy road,’ she says.

Pretty thinks festivals can reach between 110dB and 130dB. ‘Ambulance sirens usually hit around 125dB and you know how loud that is when it goes past,’ he says. ‘Would you like to be in a room with that for hours on end? When you get to 130dB, that’s the threshold of pain and when it will physically hurt your ears.’

In fact, experts say prolonged exposure to anything over 85dB will cause hearing loss. ‘Just to put that into perspective,’ explains Pretty, ‘a very busy workplace where printers and various other things are going on around you can reach up  to 80dB, and so can the blender in  your kitchen.’

However, hearing loss doesn’t  happen suddenly, it occurs over a  period of time. ‘The important thing to remember is that it’s very uncommon  for hearing loss to occur straight after hearing a loud sound,’ says Nick Clive, audiologist at The Audiology Room.  ‘It usually happens after being exposed  to loud sounds for a length of time,  such as clubbing on a regular basis. When you’re subjected to high input sound for a long period of time, you don’t give your hearing a chance to recover and that’s what can cause the permanent damage.’

In Britain, an estimated 10million people are affected by hearing loss and on average they struggle for ten years before seeking help. With this in mind, Boots Hearingcare launched its Great Big Hearing Test campaign last month, designed to encourage those with hearing loss to seek treatment. The first step was to launch a free online hearing test.

Action On Hearing Loss has been working with festivals, nightclubs and music devices for its hearing protection campaign. ‘It’s aimed at getting music lovers to look after their hearing,’ says Harrison. ‘We tour all the major festivals with a marquee offering advice and selling earplugs and T-shirts, etc.  ‘Our research shows that 90 per cent of  young people have had a ringing in their ears at least once. Many top DJs and musicians wear earplugs, which filter the noise but don’t block it. However, the people in the crowd don’t realise their idols are doing this so we try to inform them as much as possible.’

Clive agrees that education is key. ‘Risk of hearing loss is much more common in youngsters than we realise,’ he says. ‘This is because the attitude about protecting your ears just isn’t there. We are unknowingly putting ourselves at risk. Rather than being seen as a hearing aid practice, which we are, we are trying to appeal to youngsters through mediums such as Facebook and Twitter. We want to let people know that there is a lot you can do to protect your ears that isn’t stuffy and old fashioned. We supply a lot of DJs with hearing protection devices. There’s a lot of trendy and discreet items out there.’

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