Some activities are just staples of summer: Outdoor concerts, fireworks shows, state fairs, airshows, and NASCAR races (look, if you like watching cars drive around in circles, no one’s going to judge you). As more of these events return to something resembling normal, the crowds–and the decibel levels–are getting larger.
And that can be a problem. Because let’s be honest: this isn’t the first outdoor concert that’s left you with ringing ears. That ringing is something called tinnitus, and it could be a sign of something bad: hearing damage. And the more damage you experience, the more your hearing will wane.
But don’t worry. With the proper hearing protection, you’ll be able to enjoy those summer activities (even NASCAR) without doing long-term damage to your ears.
How to know your hearing is hurting
So, you’re at the airshow or enjoying yourself at an incredible concert–how much attention should you be paying to your ears? Because, understandably, you’ll be pretty distracted. Well, if you’re aiming to prevent significant damage, you should be on the lookout for the following symptoms:
- Tinnitus: This is a buzzing or ringing in your ears. It’s an indication that damage is occurring. Tinnitus is pretty common, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it.
- Dizziness: Your inner ear is largely responsible for your ability to stay balanced. So if you’re feeling dizzy at one of these loud events–especially if that dizziness coincides with a rush of volume–this is another indication that damage has occurred.
- Headache: In general, a headache is a good sign that something is wrong. This is certainly true when you’re trying to gauge damage to your hearing, too. Too many decibels can result in a pounding headache. And that’s a good indication that you should seek a quieter environment.
This list is not complete, of course. Loud noise causes hearing loss because the extra loud decibel levels damage the tiny hairs in your ear responsible for sensing vibrations in the air. And once an injury to these tiny hairs occurs, there’s no way for them to heal. They’re that specialized and that delicate.
And it’s not like you’ve ever heard anyone say, “Ow, the tiny hairs in my ear hurt.” That’s why you have to watch for secondary signs.
It’s also possible for damage to occur with no symptoms whatsoever. Any exposure to loud noise will result in damage. The longer that exposure continues, the more severe the damage will become.
What should you do when you notice symptoms?
You’re rocking out just awesomely (everyone notices and is immediately captivated by how hard you rock–you’re the life of the party) when your ears start to ring, and you feel a little dizzy. What should you do? How many decibels is too loud? And are you in the danger zone? (How loud is 100 decibels, anyway?)
Well, you’ve got a few options, and they vary in terms of how effective they’ll be:
- You can leave the venue: Honestly, this is probably your best possible option if you’re looking to protect your hearing health. But it’s also the least fun option. So if your symptoms are severe, consider leaving–but we understand if you’d rather find a way to protect your hearing and enjoy the show.
- Try moving away from the source of the noise: If your ears start hurting, make sure you aren’t standing next to the stage–or a huge speaker! In other words, try moving away from the source of the noise. Maybe that means giving up your front row NASCAR seats–but you can still enjoy the show and give your ears a necessary break.
- Bring cheap earplugs wherever you go: Cheap earplugs are, well, cheap. They aren’t the best hearing protection in the world, but they’re moderately effective for what they are. So there’s no reason not to keep a pair in your glove box, purse, or wherever else. That way, if things get a little too loud, you can just pop these puppies in.
- Cover your ears with, well, anything: The goal is to protect your ears when things are loudest. So if you don’t have any earplugs and the decibel levels have caught you by surprise, consider using anything around you to cover up and protect your ears. It won’t be the most effective way to limit the sound, but it will be better than nothing.
- Check the merch booth: Some venues will sell disposable earplugs. So if you can’t find anything else, it’s worth checking out the merch booth or vendor area. Typically, you won’t have to pay more than a few bucks–and when it comes to the health of your hearing, that’s a bargain!
Are there better hearing protection methods?
So, disposable earplugs will do when you’re primarily concerned about protecting your hearing for a couple of hours at a concert. But it’s a little different when you’re a music-lover, and you go to concerts every night–or you have season tickets to NASCAR or football games–or you work in your garage every evening restoring an old Corvette with loud power tools.
In these cases, you will want to take a few more profound steps to protect your hearing. Those steps could include the following:
- Wear professional or prescription level hearing protection. This could include custom earplugs or over-the-ear headphones. The better the fit, the better the hearing protection. You can always bring these with you and put them on when the need arises.
- Use a decibel monitoring app: Most modern smartphones will be able to download an app that monitors the ambient noise. These apps will then alert you when the noise becomes dangerously high. Keep an eye on your own portable decibel meter to ensure you’re protecting your ears. This way, you’ll be able to see easily how many decibels is loud enough to damage your ears.
- Talk to a hearing specialist: It’s only when a hearing specialist can perform a hearing test that you’ll know where your hearing levels currently are. And once you have a recorded baseline, it will be easier to notice and record damage. Plus, your hearing specialist will have all kinds of personalized tips for you–all designed to keep your ears safe.
Have your cake and hear it, too
Okay, it’s a bit of a mixed metaphor, but the point stands: you can protect your hearing and enjoy all these wonderful outdoor summer events. You just have to take steps to enjoy these activities safely. And that’s true with anything–even your headphones. Knowing how loud is too loud for headphones can help you make better choices about your hearing health.
Because if you really love going to see an airshow or a NASCAR race or an outdoor summer concert–chances are, you’re going to want to keep doing that as the years go on. Being smart now means you’ll be able to hear your favorite band decades from now.