Summer 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). As more of these activities go back to something like normal, the crowds, and the noise levels, are getting larger.
And that can be a problem. Because let’s be honest: this isn’t the first loud concert that’s caused your ears to ring. That ringing is something called tinnitus, and it could be an indication of something bad: hearing damage. And the more damage you do, the more your hearing will wane.
But don’t worry. With the proper hearing protection, you’ll be able to enjoy those summer experiences (even NASCAR) without doing long-term damage to your ears.
How to know your hearing is hurting
So how much attention should you be putting on your ears when you’re at that concert or air show?
Because you’ll be fairly distracted, naturally.
Well, if you want to stop severe damage, you should be looking out for the following symptoms:
- Dizziness: Your inner ear is primarily responsible for your ability to stay balanced. Dizziness is another signal that damage has taken place, particularly if it’s accompanied by a spike in volume. So if you’re at one of these loud events and you feel dizzy you could have injured your ears.
- Tinnitus: This is a ringing or buzzing in your ears. It’s a sign that damage is occurring. Tinnitus is rather common, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect it.
- Headache: In general, a headache is a good sign that something isn’t right. And when you’re trying to gauge hearing damage this is even more relevant. A pounding headache can be triggered by overly loud volume. If you find yourself in this situation, seek a less noisy setting.
Needless to say, this list isn’t exhaustive. There are tiny hairs in your ears which are responsible for detecting vibrations in the air and overly loud sounds can damage these hairs. And once these tiny hairs are destroyed, they never heal or grow back. That’s how fragile and specialized they are.
And the phrase “ow, my little ear hairs hurt” isn’t something you ever hear people say. That’s why you have to watch for secondary signs.
You also could be developing hearing loss without any detectable symptoms. Any exposure to loud sound will result in damage. And the damage will worsen the longer the exposure continues.
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 to ring. How loud is too loud and what should you do? Are you standing too close to the speakers? How should you know how loud 100 decibels is?
Here are a few options that have different levels of effectiveness:
- Use anything to cover your ears: When things get loud, the aim is to safeguard your ears. So if you don’t have any earplugs and the volume levels have taken you by surprise, consider using anything around you to cover up and safeguard your ears. It won’t be the most efficient way to reduce the sound, but it will be better than nothing.
- Try moving away from the source of the noise: If you notice any ear pain, distance yourself from the speakers. Essentially, distance yourself from the origin of the noise. Perhaps that means letting go of your front row NASCAR seats, but you can still enjoy the show and give your ears a necessary respite.
- You can go someplace less noisy: If you really want to safeguard your ears, this is really your best solution. But it may also put an end to your fun. So if your symptoms are significant, consider getting out of there, but we get it if you’d rather pick a way to safeguard your hearing and enjoy the show.
- Find the merch booth: Some venues sell disposable earplugs. So if you don’t have anything else, it’s worth checking out the merch booth or vendor area. Typically, you won’t have to pay more than a few dollars, and with regards to the health of your hearing, that’s a deal!
- Keep a set of cheap earplugs with you: Cheap earplugs are, well, cheap. They aren’t the ideal hearing protection, but they’re somewhat effective for what they are. So there isn’t any reason not to have a pair in your glove box, purse, or wherever. This way, if things get a little too loud, you can simply pop in these puppies.
Are there better hearing protection strategies?
So, disposable earplugs will work when you’re mainly concerned about protecting your hearing for a couple of hours at a show. But it’s a bit different when you’re a music-lover, and you go to concerts nightly, or you have season tickets to NASCAR or football games, or you work in your garage every night repairing an old Corvette with noisy power tools.
You will want to use a little more advanced methods in these situations. Here are some steps in that direction:
- Come in and see us: We can do a hearing assessment so that you’ll know where your hearing levels currently are. And once you have a recorded baseline, it will be easier to detect and note any damage. Plus, we’ll have a lot of individualized tips for you, all tailored to keep your ears safe.
- Use professional or prescription level hearing protection. This may mean over-the-ear headphones, but more likely, it will mean personalized earplugs. The degree of protection increases with a better fit. When need arises, you will have them with you and you can simply put them in.
- Use a volume monitoring app: Ambient noise is typically monitored by your smartphone automatically, but you can also get an app for that. These apps will then warn you when the noise becomes dangerously loud. Monitor your own portable volume meter to ensure you’re safeguarding your ears. Using this method, the exact decibel level that can harm your ears will be obvious.
Have your cake and hear it, too
Okay, it’s a bit of a mixed metaphor, but the point stands: you can safeguard your hearing and enjoy all these fabulous outdoor summer events. You will enjoy those activities safely by taking a few simple measures. And that’s relevant with anything, even your headphones. You will be able to make better hearing decisions when you recognize how loud is too loud for headphones.
Because if you really enjoy going to see an airshow or a NASCAR race or an outdoor summer concert, chances are, you’re going to want to continue doing that as the years go on. Being smart now means you’ll be capable of hearing your favorite band decades from now.