Music is often the soundtrack to integral parts of many wonderful moments in life. Undoubtedly you have fond memories of our favorite band in concert, your first dance, the soundtrack at the movie when you went to the cinema, or turning the volume up on a late-night drive home. Unfortunately, music can also wreak havoc on your hearing health if you don’t monitor the volume. Can loud music cause hearing loss?


Let’s take a look.


Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

The ear is extremely delicate. Noise damages the tiny hair cells that process and send electrical sound signals to the brain. When these tiny hair cells (called stereocilia), are exposed to extremely loud noise for extended periods, they can be permanently damaged. The stereocilia cannot regrow, leading to permanent hearing loss. NIHL cannot be cured.


Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is common among army veterans, people who work in noisy environments, and musicians. NIHL can occur as a once-off exposure to an extremely loud sound or continuous exposure to loud sounds over a period. This includes loud music.


When is music too loud?

Whilst loudness may seem subjective, there are definite levels that should be avoided in order to protect your ears.


An average conversation is 60 decibels (dB). While research results vary, the generally-accepted exposure limit is 85dB. This is the maximum volume you can be exposed to for eight hours at a time without suffering damage to your hearing.


Loudness isn’t the only factor to consider. Duration and proximity are essential. Being closer to a moderately-loud sound source can do more damage than being far from a loud source.


Exposure time works on an exponential scale. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), your maximum listening time is cut in half for every 3dB increase in volume. That means the maximum exposure time for 88dB is four hours, and two hours for 91dB.


For reference, highway traffic can range from 70-80dB or more, and motorbikes can reach 80-100dB.


Signs and symptoms of NIHL

If you have been exposed to very loud noise, such as some of the examples provided above, and your hearing has not recovered from the temporary threshold shift, you should monitor your hearing and consult a hearing expert. Signs that may indicate a need for further hearing testing include:

  • Ear pain after exposure to loud noise.
  • Hearing when someone speaks but struggling to understand what is said. It might sound like the speaker is mumbling, or the words mesh into each other.
  • Ringing, buzzing, whistling sounds without an external source. This is called tinnitus.
  • People noticing you are setting the volume of the television, stereo, or radio too loud.


How to prevent NIHL

Listen to your ears. If a sound becomes uncomfortable, or hurts your ears, it is too loud. If you experience this, turn down the volume as quickly as possible.

  • After listening to something, your ears hurt.
  • Your ears buzz or ring, but there’s no outside source producing the noise.
  • You cannot carry a conversation without raising your voice.
  • Your ears feel blocked and sounds are muffled.


Loud car stereos and hearing loss

Your car stereo has the potential to be extremely loud. Even the most basic systems can increase the volume to far exceed safe listening levels. Continued exposure to loud music in a car can cause hearing loss and decrease your awareness of your surroundings. That’s why safe listening is essential on every trip.


Is all NIHL Permanent?

Not all NIHL is permanent. It can be temporary or permanent, depending on the severity of the noise and the duration of the exposure. While acute temporary NIHL is common, constant exposure to loud noise can cause permanent sensorineural hearing loss.


Acute temporary NIHL causes include:

  • Loud concerts.
  • Gunfire without wearing protective gear.
  • Proximity to an explosion.
  • Loud car stereos with the volume more than 95dB to 100dB.


Acute NIHL symptoms include:

  • Muffled sounds.
  • Ringing in the ears.
  • Decreased hearing ability.


Acute NIHL usually returns to normal after 16 to 48 hours. However, there may be long-term damage to your hearing that only presents later in life.


Protect Your Hearing for a Lifetime of Healthy Hearing

Your hearing is a precious gift. It plays an integral part in how you experience life and it shapes every experience and gives context and meaning to conversations. Without it, you can feel isolated and alone. Unable to take part in the life you love. While it’s not always possible to avoid loud noise, it’s important that when you do, you take the necessary precautions to ensure you will experience healthy hearing for a longer period.


To protect your hearing, you should:

  • Wear hearing protection when you know you’ll be exposed to loud sounds.
  • Turn down your car stereo to below conversational levels.
  • Avoid loud noises when possible.
Written by Marcelle Swanepoel

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