I spend about 75% of my waking hours listening to music. I have my headphones in as I walk to work, I play music in my office and spend many nights out at shows in venues that range from small basements to giant amphitheaters. Recently, I started wondering how my fan-dom was actually affecting my hearing. In the past, I’ve worn basic foam earplugs when I remembered to bring them (which, honestly was only about 50% of the time) but they sometimes muffled the sound to the point where I ended up taking them out.
What’s the safest way to listen to music without ruining it?
To get some answers, I visited Audiologist Dominick Servedio. Dr. Servedio explained that the decibel levels at many concerts hover around 120dB (to get an idea of what that means, the weakest sound possible is 0dB and the loudest is 194 dB, as per the House Research Institute). Most hearing loss is cumulative, though he said he has seen cases where one extremely loud exposure led to a decreased sense of audio perception.
Keep reading for Dr. Servedio’s headphone suggestions and for three ways to protect your hearing.
In terms of headphones and ear buds, Dr. Servedio said to be wary of devices that don’t block out outside noise very well — when there’s a lot of external interference, you’re more likely to turn your music up louder. “The damage occurs when you’re trying to drown something out,” he says. The louder the music, the greater chance of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
Here are some of the best ways to prevent hearing loss:
Look for headphones that either cover your entire ear or ear buds that fit to your ear to avoid outside noise from competing with what you’re listening to. If you’re listening to good headphones, Servedio says, you should be able to keep the volume on the lower side and still hear everything clearly. The most effective types of ’phones and plugs are those specifically molded to fit your ear canal. (Again, because they seal in, blocking outside noise). While visiting Dr. Servedio, I had molds taken of my ears (a process which only took a few minutes) that JH Audio used to make personalized In-Ear Monitors (or IEMs) and ear plugs. Many of the musicians you see performing live are wearing IEMs (see Kanye West photo, left.)
2. Always wear earplugs when you are subject to loud noise—this means at concerts, clubs and when you’re in an environment blasting loud music. Custom-fit plugs are preferable but basic foam plugs (Dr. Servedio adorably called them ’foamies’) still do a great job in blocking dBs.
Be aware of the signs of noise-induced hearing loss. A 2006 American Speech-Language Hearing Association, ear discomfort after sound exposure and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
These days, I’m sticking with my IEMs for listening to music and try and remembering to keep my custom-fit earplugs in my bag for when I go out to shows. (And I also keep some foamies at work for when I forget my customs.)
For more information on protecting your hearing, please visit TeenVogue.com.