We Brits love a good music festival. I’m not sure whether it’s the pleasure of hearing all those live performers or the opportunity to spend a weekend complaining about queues, weather, traffic and over-priced drinks, but the whole thing really seems to have hit a sweet spot in our national psyche.
I’m joking, of course. But there is one common side effect of festivals that you have every right to complain about – and that’s returning home with your festival highlights literally ringing in their ears. As many as 50% of people experience tinnitus after a loud music event. That’s about half of you reading this blog. Yet barely anybody (except for some music professionals who now know better) think of taking ear plugs to a festival.
So what can you do to prevent post-festival tinnitus? Should you avoid loud music altogether if you have a hearing problem? And won’t ear plugs stop you enjoying a gig or concert? Here’s everything you need to know about festivals and your hearing health…
How to protect your hearing at music festivals
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the technical term for a ringing in your ears or any sound that doesn’t come from an external source. It may also be experienced as a whistling or hissing sound, a whirr or even a short musical sequence. It can range in volume from barely noticeable to impossible to ignore.
Listening to loud music for long periods of time, like you do at music festivals for example, is one of the most common causes of tinnitus. In most instances, the ringing goes away after a few hours, but not always. Repeated exposure to loud music leads to long-term damage. Either experienced as chronic tinnitus or permanent hearing loss.
It’s little surprise that Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Sting, Roger Daltrey, Will.I.Am, Phil Collins and many other professional musicians have all come forward to talk about their own experience of tinnitus or hearing loss – many have also encouraged the next generation of performers and fans to take better care of their hearing.
This video produced by Tinnitus Talk Support Forum does a good job of explaining tinnitus in more detail.
How loud is too loud?
85 dBA is generally considered to be the upper limit for safe listening levels. That’s roughly the loudness of a food blender, city traffic, or the dial tone from the old rotary phones. At this level, you can safely listen all day with no risk to your hearing.
At live music events, you’re often exposed to sound levels above 100 dBA, potentially for hours at a time. At this level, the advice is to keep listening time to under 15 minutes to avoid damaging your ears. Which is fine if you’re at home but not so easy at a gig.
Let’s talk about ear plugs… the musical kind
Most people think of ear plugs as a way to block out as much sound as possible. The kind of thing you might wear if your partner snores or you want to get some sleep on a long flight. Not exactly an appealing idea when you’ve just spent hundreds of pounds to listen to your favourite musicians.
These kind of ear plugs are very different to musical ear plugs which are designed to reduce the sound level in the range of 10-30 dBA without muffling or distorting the music in any way. Some even let you change the attenuation level so you can use them for acoustic performances and front-of-the-crowd rock gigs.
Far from hindering your listening experience, musical ear plugs can actually enhance it. That’s because when music is very loud, your ear can’t really hear the detail. Even pitch and rhythm get muddied and after a while your brain just fills in the detail. By attenuating the level, you actually hear what the musicians are playing much more accurately.
But won’t that make conversation impossible during the performance? Again, good ear plugs can actually make talking easier. When someone is shouting in your ear to be heard over the music, you’ll have a hard time making out what they’re saying. By bringing the volume down, you’re likely to find it much easier to hear them.
What if you already have tinnitus?
If you developed tinnitus as a result of listening or playing loud music, the last thing you want to do is make it worse. But at the same time, if you love music so much, do you really want to stop going to festivals altogether?
It’s not a dilemma anyone wants to have, so let me put your mind at ease. So long as you take extra caution and use good-quality ear plugs at all times, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t continue to enjoy music festivals. It won’t cure your tinnitus but nor will it make it any worse.
A quick word on Sudden Sensorial Hearing loss
Anyone who suffers from chronic tinnitus will tell you it’s deeply unpleasant. But that’s not the worst-case scenario for festival goers. Exposure to prolonged loud music can also result in Sudden Sensorial Hearing Loss (SSHL). This irreversible form of hearing loss happens when the inner ear, cochlea or nerve pathways between the ear and the brain become damaged. This should be motivation alone to be a little more hearing aware!
Enjoy your festival – and don’t forget your ear plugs!
Now you’re a bit more informed, hopefully you will add ear plugs to your pre-festival check list. Of course, we can help you out with this – we have a range of noise protection solutions for every requirement.
If this blog post is too little too late and you already suffer from tinnitus, do come and talk to us. Quick action is imperative with most hearing issues and can greatly improve the results. Hopefully we can help get you back out into the fields and concert halls as quick as possibly. Book an appointment now.
About Sevenoaks Hearing
At Sevenoaks Hearing, we provide a bespoke hearing service, using state-of-the-art technology to provide an accurate diagnosis and an effective solution. As we are independent of any manufacturer, we can also provide the best solution for your lifestyle. Find out about our hearing assessments and other treatment services.
Written by Matt Canon, Lead Audiologist at Sevenoaks Hearing.
Visit our independent hearing centres in Sevenoaks, Banstead and East Grinstead or book an appointment now.