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Hearing - once it's gone, it's gone!

Fri 13 Mar 2009

Hearing - once it's gone, it's gone!

As music lovers we should all be aware of how the world around us effects our hearing. Day-to-day noise levels tend to be of a fairly low and safe sound pressure level (SPL) and does not generally pose a risk to our long term hearing. However, it only takes a relatively small increase in SPL to induce short term influence on how we interpret sound and a surprisingly small step again before hearing is damaged long term.

Measured in dB SPL, the sound pressure scale shows where everyday sound levels appear relative to the extremes of sound pressure.At the bottom we have the quietest sound we can hear or auditory threshold (0dB), at the top is the theoretical limit for undistorted sound (191dB). Notice that, although the threshold of pain sets in at just 134dB, hearing damage during short-term effects happens even lower at just 120dB!

If you're a heavy rock fan you should be especially careful. A long debate rages as to who actually holds the record for being the loudest band in the world. However, with figures quoted in the 130-140dB region its no wonder the Guinness Book of Records have withdrawn the category for fear of encouraging hearing damage!

Even sounds well below those mentioned above will effect our hearing in the short term. Using an electric drill, taking a plane ride or going to a gig can have the effect of "turning down" your hearing sensitivity, an effect that lasts some time after the sound has ceased.

There are plenty of things you can do to preserve your hearing. Avoiding loud, noisy environments is an obvious choice. Many musicians are now using in ear monitors rather than huge stage monitor speakers in an effort to reduce their exposure. If you have to work in a noisy environment try some musicians earplugs. These are highly effective and reduce sound pressure level by varying degrees while keeping a good balance of sound.

Once hearing is damaged it is damaged forever, no operation can repair ears damaged from exposure to high SPLs. So take care with your hearing and enjoy your music (and HiFi system) for as long as possible!