How noisy is too noisy?

Audience with hands in the air at a music festival

Noise induced hearing loss is affecting younger people at higher rates than previous generations so it’s really important to let children and young people know how to protect their ears.

The World Health Organization estimates over 1 billion teens and young adults worldwide are at risk of hearing loss due to unsafe use of personal listening devices like mobile phones, and exposure to damaging levels of sound at concerts, bars and sports events.

Hearing Therapist Therese Leach is concerned about the lack of awareness many young people have about the potential damage from listening to personal devices. “Earbuds are my main bane,” says Therese, “and you know it’s loud, because other people can hear it too.”

Prolonged exposure to sounds greater than 85 decibels can damage hearing, and it is recommended people spend no more than 15 minutes exposed to 100 decibels — that’s less than most rock concerts.

“Unsafe listening practices can result in permanent hearing loss, and have a lasting impact on people’s lives,” says Therese.  “Hearing loss can affect education and employment outcomes, and impact relationships and general wellbeing. So it’s important to develop good habits right from the start when using personal listening devices or enjoying time out at noisy events.”

Here are five tips to protect your hearing for the future:

  • The best way to protect hearing is to reduce the volume on your personal listening device and limit listening time to less than one hour each day.
  • Well-fitted headphones are preferable to earbuds, and think about investing in noise-cancelling headphones. These disrupt background noise so you are less likely to crank up the volume when enjoying your favourite music.
  • Keep earplugs on hand when attending concerts, festivals or sporting events. Position yourself away from sound speakers, and find a quiet zone to take regular listening breaks throughout the event.
  • Sound is increasingly damaging even at small increases in volume. Stay on top of noise levels by downloading a phone app that measures decibels — it may even surprise you to find out at how damaging sound levels are in your favourite bar or café, or at the gym.
  • If you are concerned about hearing loss, or if you are experiencing ringing or discomfort in your ears, consult a hearing therapist without delay.

Life Unlimited Hearing Therapy Services are funded by the Ministry of Health to provide free hearing evaluations,  hearing information and advice, and to teach ways to reduce the impact of hearing impairment in the lives of New Zealanders aged 16 years and over.