‘Culture of loudness’ puts hearing at risk, experts warn

A recent European Union health report warns that high volume setting on personal music players could permanently damage one’s hearing.

A team of nine experts, on the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks, concluded that over 10 million Europeans risk irreversible hearing loss due to music played at levels exceeding the recommended maximum of 90 decibels.

Stephen Neale, an independent audio engineer and a musician for almost 35 years, says his ears are his most prized assets. He recalls the days when his ears would ring for hours after a rehearsal or show.

“Used to be a thing in the old days where louder was better,” Neale said. “There’s still a little bit of that going on with guys who can’t wait to get a hold of a 100 watt Marshall (amp) and stand in front of it.”

Richard Flohil, head of music publicity and promotions company, Richard Flohil & Associates, says he has attended his fair share of concerts and festivals over 30 years in the music business. He said he usually had the common sense to leave shows he felt were too loud.

“I remember a show I saw at Convocation Hall (at U of T), this English folk band. And when you think of folk music you wouldn’t think of loud music,” Flohil said. “But the music was turned up so bloody high that I had to leave.”

Jamie Grew is an audiologist with the Canadian Hearing Society. He blamed not only personal music players, but other sources as well: video games, cars with booming stereo systems and even movie theatres with high sound volumes.

Grew explained that the hearing organ consists of millions of tiny hair cells and compared them to blades of grass on a soccer field. Each hair cell sends a message to the brain for a specific type of sound. When the hair cells are stimulated they move and fire an electrical stimulus to the brain for that specific type of sound.

“Now if you have a stampede on the soccer field, then all the blades of grass start to turn to mud,” Grew said. “They fall apart, you ruin the sod, the blades of grass.”

Heather Morgan performs as a fiddler, singer and songwriter. She has played alongside musicians who neglected to take care of their hearing and by the time they were warned it was too late.

She also noticed that older musicians would turn up their instruments really loud, while the younger musicians tended not to.

“(I asked) ‘Why do you have to turn it up so loud; that’s insane,'” Morgan said. “But I realized they couldn’t hear themselves.”

Audiologist Grew said there are advances in technology for musicians that allow them to protect their hearing, such as using in-ear monitors to hear themselves singing or playing. But, today’s culture is much louder than his generation or his parents’ generation.

“It’s a concern. Wherever you go you speak to an audiologist and there is a concern about modern day culture having excessive levels of noise,” Grew said.