U tells concertgoers to listen up

Nikki Wee

Band T-shirts, signs, energy and excitement are a few of the things fans might bring with them to a concert.

But a recent University study shows that concertgoers might need to bring something else” earplugs. Without them, music enthusiasts risk short-term hearing damage and could eventually suffer noise-induced hearing loss as a result of concert and crowd noise.

“Everybody knows that concerts are loud. That’s not new,” said David Opperman, the study’s lead investigator and a Medical School resident. “But what we found was that it’s not just the music ” it’s the environment.”

In the study, participants were assigned to sit in different seating areas while attending concerts featuring pop, heavy metal or rockabilly music. Two people were placed in each seating area; one of the participants in each section wore earplugs and the other did not.

Before the concerts, all participants had normal or near-normal hearing “thresholds,” based on the results of a hearing test called an audiogram. A threshold is the softest sound a person can hear on the hearing test.

After the concerts, when audiograms were given again, 64 percent of those not wearing earplugs had significant hearing threshold shifts, in which they couldn’t hear as soft a sound as they could before the concert. Only 27 percent of those wearing earplugs experienced this temporary threshold shift, the study found.

These shifts occurred regardless of where the participants sat during the concert or the type of music they listened to.

While the music itself is loud, Opperman said, crowd noise also has an effect on the changes in hearing thresholds that occurred in the study.

“People have to understand that the environment itself is conducive,” Opperman said.

When the researchers measured sound levels at the concerts, the highest was 125 decibels. Prolonged exposure to noises of approximately 85 decibels can damage hearing, according to the League for the Hard of Hearing.

Because of this, Opperman suggested people going to concerts protect their hearing by wearing earplugs.

“There’s really no perfect earplug,” he said. “But if you don’t wear them, they won’t work.”

First-year engineering student Robin Richards said she recently went to a Disturbed concert at First Avenue.

“It was standing-room only,” she said. “So we were about a foot and a half away from the band. It was really loud.”

But Richards said she didn’t notice any major changes in her hearing after the concert.

Richards has tried wearing earplugs to concerts before and noticed that it actually helped her to hear the music more clearly because it minimized the amount of bass guitar she heard, she said.

First-year student Greg Maus said he attends many concerts, ranging from local bands playing at coffee shops to mainstream groups such as Reel Big Fish and Green Day.

“After a concert, my ears will just ring for an hour,” he said. “And then I’ll start yelling at my friends because I can’t hear.”

However, Maus said, he won’t be taking earplugs when he goes to his next concert.

“Since I’ll usually go to smaller scenes, I don’t think it will have a big effect on my hearing,” he said.

Former University student Ari Herstand once attended a concert in which he stood near a wall of speakers and four loud trumpets.

“After that show, I heard ringing in my ears for three days,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep.”

The concert caused the local musician to now bring a pair of earplugs to every concert he attends.

Even though he will “jokingly get harassed” by other concertgoers about wearing earplugs, Herstand still keeps his earplugs on hand and suggests others do the same.

“I would recommend that everyone bring earplugs to every concert they go to if they still want to be going to concerts when they’re 41,” Herstand said.