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Dulcet tones – or party till your ears ring?

Regular gig-goers who don’t wear ear protection can cause long-term damage to their hearing. So Sonova’s Hear The World Foundation has launched an information campaign to clue music fans up about their listening habits and provide some tips on how to protect your ears.

Things can get pretty loud right in front of the stage or up against the speakers, with volume levels of 100 dB or more often routine at concerts and clubs – as loud as a chainsaw. But earplugs? At a gig? No way! If you’ve paid a small fortune to hear live music, you want to get your money’s worth if you can.

Only a small minority stop to consider that enjoying unfiltered sound can cause lasting damage to your hearing, so the Hear the World Foundation has launched an information campaign to coincide neatly with the start of the festival season: their “How The World Hears” study  examines how we look after our hearing while shining a spotlight on what we know about hearing and hearing loss. The results are alarming: 56% of those surveyed around the world have experienced tinnitus on at least one occasion after visiting a club or concert – and it turns out that more than two-thirds never wear ear protection when visiting venues with loud music.

There is no question that going out, partying and enjoying music is fun, but it’s up to each individual to protect their hearing. Once your ears are damaged, there’s no going back – hearing loss is irreversible. “This is why we wanted to use our international study to raise awareness – music that is too loud can have devastating consequences,” says Elena Torresani, Head of the Hear the World Initiative. With the support of a market research company, 1,000 people aged 16 to 55 from five countries (Germany, Switzerland, the USA, Brazil and China) were asked about their listening habits.

The results of this international comparison show that the Brazilians lead the field for regular visits to events with loud music (64%), and the country is also top of the tinnitus table: two-thirds of those surveyed said that they had already been affected. Although the Swiss come second only to Brazil for regular visits to places with loud music (57%), they are least troubled by tinnitus (48%). This may be because event promoters in Switzerland are obliged to hand out free ear protection if the average hourly noise level rises above 93 dB(A). Even so, only 11% of Swiss survey respondents always wear ear protection when visiting places with loud music, 32% sometimes, and 57% never. The consequences are often disastrous: tinnitus has become a chronic problem for 16% of those who have experienced it.

“We also want to use our information campaign to address prejudices against ear protection,” continues Elena Torresani. “The idea here is to increase awareness of the individual risks while addressing social considerations as well, as our current study shows.” Conditions are promising, as the reasons why concert-goers fail to protect their hearing don’t stand up to much scrutiny: some two-thirds of those surveyed in Switzerland and around the world simply underestimated the volume, while 28% believe they can no longer conduct a conversation with earplugs in their ears and 26% are worried their enjoyment of the music might be impaired.

To help get its message across, the Hear the World campaign has been recruiting famous musicians with whom audiences feel a connection, and an Unheilig concert at Zurich’s Hallenstadion has shown how effective a direct address by the performers can be: after the foundation launched its campaign in the area and the band’s singer simultaneously made a personal plea for people to protect their hearing, the proportion of those wearing earplugs rose to record levels (61%). Cooperation with the leading Swiss concert promoters abc Production has helped the Hear the World Foundation reach some 600,000 concert-goers a year.

The foundation is doing more than just investigating the current state of play, however; it is also giving out tips on how to avoid hearing damage: besides using earplugs, it is also worth downloading an app that measures background noise. Staying hydrated ensures better blood flow to the hair cells in the cochlea, thus promoting hearing function, and your ears should also be given a rest after a gig, ideally for ten hours or more. And if you should continue to hear a ringing in your ears after a concert, a quick trip to the doctors may still help to prevent the worst.

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