While clubbing and partying is undoubtedly fun, there’s a serious health concern that comes into place every time one enters a space with loud music: the fear of getting tinnitus, the hearing condition characterized by a constant, high-pitched ringing in the ears.
This concern becomes more relevant than ever for regular clubbers and festival-goers. Despite several high-profile cases, including plenty of warning from international touring DJs, some question remain. How can such a condition arise? Does clubbing really factor in the existence of this condition?
To answer, we must first understand how tinnitus affects a person. When the ears are exposed to loud noise, the many hair cells in the inner ear’s the coiled spiral tube or cochlea get stepped on, kind of like shoes stepping on grass. If the noise continues, this affects the cochlea’s function whihc is to send noise signals to the brain. With this weakened function, the brain alternately tries to find signals from part of the cochlea that still works and these signals can become over-represented in the brain. As a result, one hears an imaginary ringing or buzzing noise in the background, or “phantom auditory perception”. As the hair cells in the cochlea grow back, one experiences the phantom ringing for a day or two. But if the hair cells in the cochlea are severely stepped on, they don’t grow back and the ringing becomes permanent. While there are plenty of treatments to help deal with the effects, there are as yet no reliable cures.
But at what level of loudness does noise start trampling your ear’s hair cells? An oft-quoted warning is that after exposure of a 100dB sound source for over 15 minutes, the ears will be at risk, whether that be to tinnitus or other types of hearing damage. Given the music at most nightclubs and gigs will be comfortably between 100dB and 110dB if you are near the speakers and 15 minutes breaks between performances are non-existent, that may not help much.
Complicating things further is that no particular level of noise for any given person will guarantee tinnitus, and it is different for every person. Genetics may play a factor in tinnitus as certain genes may influence a person’s sensitivity to noise. However this requires further study.
As the case is now, there is no way to determine if a person is more susceptible to tinnitus or not. Nevertheless, there is a way to prevent it and be on the safe side. Most recommended is the wearing of ear plugs in nightclubs, especially now there is wide range of options from high-end custom plugs that do not diminish the quality of sound to more cost-effective hi-fidelity ear plugs that still filter sound while protecting the ear from excessive decibel exposure. from the outside while minimizing noise. Taking breaks is another way to help reduce the risk of tinnitus. It does not hurt to go on a break every now and then to spare the ears from further damage, allowing them to reset before going back in a room filled with loud music.
Regardless of the option(s) you choose to keep your ears safe, what matters is that you recognize the risk that comes with clubbing, partying and generally being exposed to loud music and sounds. Wear ear plugs, no matter the kind, and give your ears needed rest every once in a while!