Summertime has some activities that are simply staples: Outdoor concerts, fireworks shows, state fairs, air shows, and NASCAR races (look, if you like watching cars drive around in circles, nobody’s going to judge you). The crowds, and the decibel levels, are getting larger as more of these activities are going back to normal.
And that can be an issue. Let’s face it: you’ve had ringing in your ears after attending a concert before. That ringing is something called tinnitus, and it could be an indication of something bad: hearing damage. And as you continue to expose your ears to these loud noises, you continue to do additional permanent damage to your hearing.
But it’s ok. With the correct ear protection, you’ll be able to enjoy those summer experiences (even NASCAR) without doing lasting damage to your ears.
How to know your hearing is suffering
So how much attention should you be putting on your ears when you’re at that concert or air show?
Because, obviously, you’ll be fairly distracted.
Well, if you want to avoid severe injury, you should be on the lookout for the following symptoms:
- Tinnitus: This is a ringing or buzzing in your ears. It means your ears are sustaining damage. Tinnitus is pretty common, but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss it.
- Headache: Generally speaking, a headache is a strong sign that something isn’t right. And when you’re trying to gauge hearing damage this is even more pertinent. A pounding headache can be triggered by excessively loud volume. If you find yourself in this situation, seek a quieter setting.
- Dizziness: Your sense of balance is largely controlled by your inner ear. So if you’re feeling dizzy at one of these loud events, particularly if that dizziness coincides with a charge of volume, this is another sign that damage has happened.
Obviously, this list isn’t exhaustive. There are tiny hairs in your ears which are responsible for picking up vibrations in the air and excessively loud noises can harm these hairs. And once these tiny hairs are damaged, they never heal or grow back. That’s how fragile and specialized they are.
And the phrase “ow, my tiny ear hairs hurt” isn’t something you ever hear anyone say. So watching for secondary signs will be the only way you can know if you’re developing hearing loss.
You also could be developing hearing loss with no apparent symptoms. Any exposure to loud noise will lead to damage. The longer you’re exposed, the more severe the damage will become.
When you do notice symptoms, what should I do?
You’re getting your best groove on (and everyone is digging it), but then, you begin to feel dizzy and your ears start ringing. What should you do? How loud is too loud? Are you standing too close to the speakers? How are you supposed to know how loud 100 decibels is?
Well, you have a few options, and they vary in terms of how helpful they’ll be:
- Use anything to cover your ears: When things get noisy, the goal is to safeguard your ears. So if you don’t have any earplugs and the volume levels have caught you by surprise, think about using anything you can find to cover and safeguard your ears. It won’t be the most effective way to control the sound, but it will be better than no protection.
- Put a little distance between you and the origin of noise: If you detect any ear pain, distance yourself from the speakers. To put it bluntly, distance yourself from the origin of the noise. You can give your ears a break while still enjoying yourself, but you might have to let go of your front row NASCAR seats.
- You can leave the concert venue: If you actually want to safeguard your ears, this is honestly your best option. But it’s also the least fun option. So if your symptoms are significant, consider leaving, but we get it if you’d rather pick a way to safeguard your hearing and enjoy the show.
- Check the merch booth: Some venues sell disposable earplugs. Go to the merch booth for earplugs if you can’t find anything else. Your hearing health is important so the few dollars you pay will be well worth it.
- 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 with you. Now, if the volume begins to get a little too loud, you just pull them out and pop them in.
Are there any other methods that are more effective?
So, disposable earplugs will do when you’re mostly interested in protecting your hearing for a couple of hours at a show. But if you work in your garage every day restoring your old Chevelle with power tools, or if you have season tickets to your favorite football stadium or NASCAR, or you go to concerts a lot, it’s not the same.
In these situations, you will want to take a few more serious steps to protect your hearing. Here are some steps in that direction:
- Use professional or prescription level hearing protection. This could include custom earplugs or over-the-ear headphones. The degree of protection increases with a better fit. When need arises, you will have them with you and you can just put them in.
- Use a volume monitoring app: Most modern smartphones will be able to get an app that monitors the ambient noise. These apps will then notify you when the noise becomes dangerously loud. Keep an eye on your own portable decibel meter to ensure you’re safeguarding your ears. This way, you’ll be able to easily see what decibel level is loud enough to harm your ears.
- Come in and for a consultation: We can perform a hearing exam so that you’ll know where your hearing levels currently are. And it will be much easier to identify and note any damage after a baseline is established. Plus, we’ll have all kinds of individualized tips for you, all tailored to protect your ears.
Have your cake and hear it, too
It may be a mixed metaphor but you get the point: you can enjoy all those awesome summer activities while still protecting your hearing. You just have to take steps to enjoy these activities safely. You need to take these steps even with headphones. You will be able to make better hearing decisions when you know how loud is too loud for headphones.
As the years go on, you will probably want to keep doing all of your favorite outdoor summer activities. If you’re not smart now you could end up losing your hearing and also your summer fun.