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Good News! Loud Music Doesn't Lead to Permanent Hearing Damage

All four members of Chic grooving to the same beat. This is Nile Rogers’ favourite picture of the band. © Jill Furmanovsky

The old adage goes that if it’s too loud you’re too old. But, while many young people enjoy listening to raucous live music from a favoured band or blasting out a curated tracklist on headphones, there’s always been the concern that loud music leads to hearing loss. So why we may relish rocking out at a gig or club, we don’t relish the idea that it may permanently damage our ears.

And it’s long been considered that it does, with studies on rodents showing it can have damaging effects on the nerve and hair cells in their ears. So, alarm bells were sounded and it was considered loud music caused lasting damage in humans too, resulting in suggestions like earbuds being recommended for those who enjoy frequenting festivals and live events.

The Ramones performing live onstage at the Paradiso, Amsterdam in September 1978. © Lex Van Rossen

But a recent study of young adults posits otherwise. The research, published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience was conducted by the Callier Center for Communication Disorders at the University of Texas at Dallas, and was headed up by Dr. Colleen Le Prell who is professor of hearing at the university. It looked at whether loud music is a cause of “hidden hearing loss” (hearing loss which can’t be detected by standard hearing tests) and sought to learn the relationship between “recreational noise exposure” and “auditory functions”.

The Clash onstage at the first large scale Rock Against Racism Carnival at Victoria Park in April 1978. © Syd Shelton

What it found was that while hearing might be temporarily affected after being at a loud concert or club, there was “no evidence of auditory nerve injury or permanent hearing difficulties.”

The team used an app to record how loud the recreational events the participants were at were, along with noting how long they spent there. No neural damage was seen with both taken into account.

James Brown performing onstage at the Hammersmith Odeon, London in May 1985. © David Corio

Speaking with a local news affiliate in the USA Dr. Le Prell said, “For the typical young person going to common recreational events, [research] suggests that they’re not the primary group that’s going to be at risk for damage.”

The researchers conducted sessions before and after the participants had gone to their events, which included music clubs and festivals, and noted a “temporary threshold shift” in their hearing which was seen within 24 hours of attending. “The effect was generally small and had disappeared one week later.” says the study.

Angus Young, with AC/DC performing at the Hammersmith Odeon, London n November 1979. © David Corio

The study concluded, “Despite multiple calls for alarm in the media and in the scientific literature, we found no evidence that typical recreational noise exposure is associated with permanent decreased auditory nerve function or poorer understanding of speech when there is background noise.”

Which is good news for those who like their concerts and DJ sets turned all the way up to 11. Although, Prell does warn that not all recreational noise is safe. “We do not know where risk begins in humans for acute recreational noise exposure or for acute high-level exposure,” says Dr Le Prell. “We also do not know how, or if, the risk of injury changes with frequent, repeated noise exposure, such as chronic daily exposure in a loud working environment.”

Jimi Hendrix onstage at the K.B. Hallen, Copenhagen, Denmark in September 1970. © Jorgen Angel

Rockarchive is delighted to be able to offer these images for sale, along with many other photos of The Clash, Chic, The Ramones, James BrownAC/DC and Jimi Hendrix as limited edition photographic prints.  

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