For the love of hearing, turn the volume down
Professor David McAlpine Professor of Hearing, Language & The Brain Director of Hearing Research Faculty of Human Sciences


For the love of hearing, turn the volume down

“You wouldn’t stare into a laser for four hours, because you know it would permanently damage your sight, so why do people think it’s okay to risk permanent hearing loss by attending loud music concerts and sports events?” asks Professor David McAlpine, Professor of Hearing, Language and the Brain and Director of Hearing Research at Macquarie.

“Saying you were deaf for a week after a concert is almost seen as a badge of honour, but with increasing numbers of people in their thirties to fifties experiencing hearing problems, this is a significant problem.”

Professor McAlpine says that noise levels at an average music concert typically exceed 100 decibels – and that if you were exposed to that volume in the workplace, your daily legal exposure would be exceeded in less than ten minutes.

Yet, while band members, crew and even bar staff wear hearing protection, there is no requirement for protecting the hearing of the punters attending the event. And with technological advances meaning that volume levels can reach extreme levels without compromising sound quality, our ears are simply not designed to withstand the onslaught of sound.

“This high intensity noise is damaging the nerve fibres in the ear, which means the brain is no longer getting the signal up the nerve,” he says.

“Once hearing has been damaged in this way, things start to sound a bit mushy. It can be very difficult for someone who has damaged their hearing in this way to make out what people are saying over any background noise.”

The ramifications of this hearing loss, in terms of someone’s ability to communicate and interact with others, are profound, with experts agreeing that it is a major communications disorder. Hearing aids are not the answer, however.

“Hearing aids are not only unfashionable, they don’t work in these cases as they amplify noise but don’t help listeners distinguish between sounds,” Professor McAlpine continues.

For those who’ve already damaged their hearing, their options are limited. But to stop it getting worse, a set of custom-made earbuds, similar to those used by music professionals, will help reduce sound levels without reducing quality.

“There are basketball stadiums in the US that are seeking to break the world record for noise. Each time they try, there is the potential for at least some of the audience to leave with permanent, lifelong hearing loss.”

He says that it is only a matter of time until someone sues and things change.

“In the meantime, it’s not about sitting at home with a glass of warm Milo. We can use existing technology to have a good time without permanently impacting our ability to communicate.”

Learn more about the Australian Hearing Hub and the services it offers.

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