Scientists Challenge Everything We Thought About Music and Hearing Loss

A causal relationship between blaring music and hearing damage may not exist.

According to endless scientific research, prolonged exposure to loud noises leads to serious hearing damage.  Studies performed on rodents suggest that loud noises could “permanently damage nerve and hair cells in the ear.”  Audiologists are constantly warning people about festivals, earbuds, and blaring car stereos.

Accordingly, earplugs are increasingly being worn, lest we lose our hearing in older age.  In fact, to avoid permanent damage among young people, one Dutch town has given sixteen-year-olds earplugs for free.

But what if attending dance clubs and music festivals doesn’t truly damage our hearing?

According to new research, maybe it doesn’t.

Dr. Colleen Le Prell is a Professor of Hearing Science at the University of Texas at Dallas.  Her study looked at whether a causal relationship existed between “recreational noise exposure” and “auditory functions” in humans.

Le Prell and her research team found that among young adults who attended “loud events” (like dance clubs and music festivals), no evidence of auditory nerve injury or permanent hearing difficulties existed.

The research team recorded how much time each person spent at common recreational events.  Using a smartphone app, participants would record how loud each event was.

Le Prell subsequently spoke with a local NBC affiliate about the study’s results.

For the typical young person going to common recreational events, [research] suggests that they’re not the primary group that’s going to be at risk for damage.

Researchers conducted sessions prior to and after exposure to these events.

They found that recreational activities like heading to dance clubs or music festivals only caused temporary hearing damage.  Le Prell and her team observed a 24-hour “threshold shift” in hearing that would ultimately disappear a week later.  No evidence existed of neural injury following these recreational events.

Discussing the potentially groundbreaking results, Le Prell noted,

One of the surprising findings from this study was that even the subjects who had extreme exposure — two subjects who went to a music festival with 16 hours of exposure at 101 to 103 dBA [A-weighted decibels], which is around 1,000 percent of the daily occupational noise limit — had only temporary changes on some functional tests, with no evidence of permanent pathology.

The study, published in open-access journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, marks the first report to “prospectively monitor potential hearing change.”  Previous studies have only retrospectively examined hearing change based on “self-reported noise exposure history.”

You can check out a summary of Le Prell’s study here.


Image by Michaelwojcik2 (CC by 4.0)

2 Responses

  1. Erik

    Not very groundbreaking at all actually. Hearing loss would come from prolonged exposure over years. No one ever left a concert thinking their hearing wouldn’t come back. But keep wearing your Beats headphones every day or be a working sound guy for concerts a few times a week for years.

  2. Pebah

    Like many studies, the test subjects were “young adults,” in other words, students in the university. Hardly a test bed for obtaining general results that apply across the population.