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Loud music will damage your hearing. What should you do?

There is a difference between a hazard and a risk. Loud sound is a hazard. You should know what to do to minimize the risk...

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There are no definitive tests to prove that loud music damages hearing. But available data gathered from hearing-impaired people has shown a distinct correlation between the level of sound they were habitually exposed to, the duration of that exposure day by day, and the degree of hearing loss.

Whether factory noise is more damaging than music is still a point that has not been proven adequately yet. But one thing is for sure, when your hearing is gone, it's gone and never will come back.

In Health & Safety parlance, loud sound is a hazard. A hazard is something that is intrinsically dangerous. If you come across a hazard, it is liable to hurt you.

A lion therefore is a hazard. Given a chance it will kill and eat you. But there are a number of things you can do to minimize the risk from a hazard...

  • Remove the hazard (shoot the lion)
  • Replace the hazard with something less dangerous (a pussy cat)
  • Guard the hazard (put the lion in a cage)
  • Use protective clothing (a suit of armor?)
  • Safety training and publicity (tell people not to go close, and put warning signs up)

In sound engineering you can do similar things...

  • Don't monitor too loud, or for too long
  • Get out of sound and move into lighting (OK, not realistic!)
  • Use a limiter in the monitoring chain (the BBC fit their headphones with limiters in the cord)
  • Use ear defenders (you can do this in a live sound context if you are not immediately involved in the sound check or concert - but try not to let the artist see!)
  • Develop an understanding of the real damage loud sound can cause to hearing

The bottom line though is that it is fun to listen to loud music. But if you want to keep your hearing in pristine condition, then limit the duration of your exposure. Don't, for example, come out of the studio and then listen to your personal stereo at full volume for hours.

A joke...

"So doctor, you say that if I don't drink alcohol, don't smoke cigarettes and don't have sex then I'll live longer?"

"That's not quite what I said. I said it will seem like it."

Life is for living and a lot of the things we do are ultimately damaging to the body. But no matter how clean your lifestyle, you are going to die eventually anyway. So enjoy your hearing, but enjoy it responsibly.

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By David Mellor Wednesday March 23, 2005
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