Musicians and music fans get to have some pretty amazing experiences. They also have one big issue to deal with - potential hearing loss. To educate us about what real risks are associated with live music and how we can prevent any problems, BFTV recently sat down with Andrea Boidman, the executive director of the Hearing Health Foundation.
"There's almost 50 million Americans in the United States that have hearing loss. Most musicians probably, whether they realize it or not, probably have some form of noise-related hearing loss as an occupational hazard," explained Andrea, who added that "They're much more conscious of protecting their hearing than they were 30 or 40 years ago."
The Hearing Health Foundation isn't telling fans not to listen to music, but rather encouraging them to protect themselves better when they do. "We say that you probably shouldn't have more than 15 minutes of unprotected exposure at over 100 decibels a day. A concert is usually about 110 decibels," Andrea continued. "When people go to concerts, we really recommend using musician's earplugs. Using hearing protection is something we encourage for all musicians and people who appreciate musicians."
When you're not listening to live music, there are still other things you can do to look out for your hearing, such as keeping your MP3 player at a lower volume, or if you know that you're going to be exposed to loud sound at some point, trying to have quiet time in other parts of your day. "85 decibels and under is your safe zone," explained Andrea. "Heavy city traffic is about 85 and normal conversation is about 60.
"There's a couple of things you can do [to protect yourself]," she said. "Obviously, if something hurts your ear, it's too loud. If you're in a place that's really loud - and this would be more for something that's intermittent - if you cover your ears, that works just as well as an earplug. You're still covering your ears. There are [also] some really amazing apps you can get. One of my colleagues was showing me an app on an iPhone and it's a decibel reader. You turn it on and it will tell you the decibel level in the room that you're in. That's a really great way to self-monitor. And it's accurate - it's actually been tested against professional equipment."
Right now, there is no cure for hearing loss, but Andrea and her team at the Hearing Health Foundation are hoping to change that with their Hearing Restoration Project. Many common types of hearing loss are the result of damage to or loss of hair cells located in the inner ear, which convert sound into signals for your brain. Some animals regenerate these cells, like birds and fish, but humans don't. "Researchers have been trying to figure out what is it that birds have that people don't, or what is it that people have that's preventing them from doing this?" explained Andrea. "We've organized a consortium of researchers. We have fourteen people and they are the best and the brightest. They are the country's best researchers working in this field, and what they've decided to do is basically work together to share their data and share their knowledge."
But that's not all you can do. "In May, we're actually going to be encouraging people to get their hearing tested," said Andrea. "People have this misconception that hearng loss is only for older people. There's a much larger population of people that could benefit from diagnostic testing. One in five teenagers has hearing loss now. People don't realize what a big problem it is."
Don't let yourself become part of that problem - check out the handy graphic below that will tell you how loud is too loud, and use the Hearing Health Foundation's links above for more resources that can help you protect your hearing and ensure that you can enjoy music for a long time to come.