Rock and Roll Through The Ages With Hearing Protection

Symptoms: Distorted or muffled hearing, ringing (tinnitus), headache, sensitivity to loud sounds, fatigue, and/or “full” feeling ears after attending a concert.

Diagnosis: “Noise Hangover”- the by-product of overexposure to loud sound, without the use of hearing protection.

Prognosis: Repeated overexposure to loud sound, without the use of hearing protection, causes permanent damage to hearing. The consequences of this damage are high frequency hearing loss, difficulty hearing in noise, and/or tinnitus.

Prescription: Use of hearing protection at ANY music event!

Tolstoy summarized the effect music can have quite well when he stated:

“Music makes me forget my real situation. It transports me into a state which is not my own. Under the influence of music I really seem to feel what I do not understand, to have powers which I cannot have.” 

Most of us can relate to what Tolstoy stated; music can have a magical and wonderful effect. It can make you feel happy, motivated, and even euphoric! These feelings and experiences aren’t unsubstantiated either. Research shows that music activates regions of the brain that are thought to be involved in reward, motivation, emotion, and arousal. These brain structures are known to be active in response to other euphoria-inducing stimuli, such as food, sex, and drugs (Blood & Zatorre, 2001). Further, studies show music enhances intelligence, improves physical performance, increases productivity, improves mood, the list goes on and on ( With all the positive impacts music has, it’s hard to imagine there are any downsides associated with it. BUT there can be.

Most Americans consume music at dangerously loud levels and often don’t even realize it. One of the most common situations, where exposure to dangerous sound levels occurs, is at concerts. On average, concerts measure in at 115dB or louder!  A person can only listen to music at that level, without hearing protection, for a little less than 30 seconds (not even a full song) before damaging their hearing (

Unfortunately, most concertgoers don’t wear hearing protection and for a variety of reasons. Some say they want the “true” concert experience or want to “feel” the music. Others refuse because their ears always seem to bounce back even after experiencing a “noise hangover.” Regardless of the reason, damage to the hearing system occurs every time. Because the effects of noise-induced damage take place very gradually, people underestimate the impact it has until ringing in the ears persists or communication is hindered due to hearing loss. At that point, the damage is done and irreversible.

Therefore, hearing protection must be part of the concert going experience! There is a wide-variety of hearing protection products available and some are specifically designed to preserve sound quality so that the integrity of music is not jeopardized.  Here are some options to consider:

Foam plugsFoam earplugs:a non-custom, one-time use, one-size fits all form of protection that is the most widely recognized and used. They are inexpensive, can be purchased at almost any drug store, and offer a great deal of protection. The downside of foam plugs is that they greatly reduce high frequencies, which distorts or muffles the sound quality of music, resulting in an unfavorable listening experience.

custom plugsCustom earplugs: are designed to fit the contours of a person’s unique ear. They typically cost around $100, come in many color options, last for an extended period of time, can be used in a variety of noisy situations, and provide a great deal of protection.  Custom earplugs require a visit to a hearing health care professional to make an impression of the ears. Similar to foam earplugs, customs earplugs reduce high frequencies greatly which can impact the sound quality of music.

musician plugs 1Musicians earplugs: contain a filter that reduces sound equally across all frequencies to preserve sound quality, making music clear and natural sounding but at a safer level.  Different filter strengths are available to tailor protection based on the users preference. Non-custom musicians earplugs are available at some drug-stores, music shops, or online and typically cost around $20. Custom musicians earplugs, which can be obtained through a hearing health care professional, have all of the benefits of custom earplugs but truly provide the ultimate listening experience for a concertgoer. Musicians earplugs range in cost from $115-200.

All of these options are good and are better than no protection at all. But, the best hearing protector is the one you will wear every time!  

By Lindsay Prusick, Au.D.