What Attending a Summer Concert Is Actually Doing to Your Ears


It's summer concert season, but before you go buying tickets to Jay Z and Beyoncé's On The Run tour, consider this: According to the National Institutes of Health, less than a minute of attending a live rock concert can cause permanent damage to your hearing.

As live music has become increasingly popular for our age group, hearing loss is on the rise, too. The phenomenon once associated with old age is suddenly massively prevalent among young people. 

And that has more serious consequences than enjoying concerts less. Hearing loss isn't only about your ears — it's been linked to memory failure too. Researchers have found that it actually speeds up dementia, and is linked to a rate of cognitive decline that's 30% to 40% more rapid than those with normal hearing.

Just think of what we'll be like in 40 years at Nicki Minaj's comeback tour.

Here's what the science says: Ears register sound through tiny rows of hair cells that pick up the vibrations a soundwave creates in the ear's reservoir of fluid. These hair cells are linked to auditory nerve fibers which each pick up a different frequency and transmit it to the brain, which then sorts it into traffic, crying babies or Slayer performing "Angel of Death" at Bloodstock '13. When those hair cells get pressed down too frequently or for too long, they lose their sensitivity. This induces tinnitus, a permanent ringing in the ear that tons of musicians — including famous synth act Grimes — suffer from.  

Sound is measured in decibels (dB), which is a problem when it comes to helping people make safe decisions with their hearing. Nobody has any idea what a decibel is. To give you a sense, most conversations hover around 60 dB. It only takes 25 decibels above that to trigger hearing loss; once volume reaches 85 dB (like blenders and hairdryers), hearing loss begins.

That doesn't mean that your hair dryer is ruining your ears every morning. It's through an either/or combination of repeated exposure to loud noises and high volume that triggers the damage. And, the human body can't repair damaged hearing receptors. The loudest band in the world, '80s rock studs Manowar, maxed out at 160 dBs. Most concerts clock in at 120 dB, meaning one concert is enough to do permanent damage to your hearing.

But there is hope. Experts have created a list of tips for those who want to keep their hearing and their mental health past their early 20s, and it turns out that there's really no trick to it. One key is to give your ears breaks — when at a concert, take listening breaks by going outside or using the bathroom. But above all else, the most recommended tactic for preventing hearing loss is wearing ear protection — whether it's high quality ear plugs or simply rolled up toilet paper.