The loud ringing in your ears that persists after you've been to a nightclub is a warning bell all of its own. Its message, say campaigners: don earplugs or make a beeline for the chill out room.
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine
For anyone enjoying an evening of unbridled hedonism on the dancefloor, a little restraint is hardly in the spirit of things - but that's what campaigners for the deaf and hard of hearing charity RNID are advising.
Next time you find yourself at a gig, in a loud bar or club, or at a festival you may be exposing yourself to dangerous levels of noise, they say.
An RNID survey of 15 nightclubs across five cities in 2004 found many had dancefloors with an average decibel level above 100. The volume range was 90-110 decibels across the board. To get an idea, 110 decibels is typical for an aircraft at take-off at close quarters.
Prolonged exposure to noise of 85 decibels and above is known to cause damage to hearing. The warning signs are dulled hearing after a night out, or ringing in the ears. Keep this up and your gig-going days will eventually draw to a close.
The issue of potential damage to hearing has been known about by musicians for some time. Who guitarist Pete Townshend famously suffers hearing loss and tinnitus after years of studio headphones, loud concerts and an unfortunate incident with an explosive charge.
Now it is typical to see bands wearing earplugs on stage. You will even see the odd gig or festival-goer wearing them. In clubs, DJs now often resort to them. And the RNID wants the clubbers to be offered them.
But why not just turn the music down?
Duncan Dick, clubs editor at Mixmag, says loud music is key to dance culture because of the "physiological" high of clubbing.
"It is an important part of going out clubbing. It is a demarcation between when you're working and when you're out enjoying yourself.
Only 16% of young worried about hearing loss
68% had hearing problems after gig
70% suffered after a night at club
"Heavy bass creates an emotional response. Bass has a physiological effect on the body, on the muscles and on the bones."
The RNID cites a study done at the University of Nottingham in 2002 to suggest that social noise levels have trebled for the young since the 1980s. House, techno, and drum and bass clubs have become ubiquitous during that time, joining rock venues in the noise stakes.
At music venues owned by the Mean Fiddler, which has had various safety surveys done into noise levels, ear plugs are already available for staff and for any customer who asks for them, although they are not usually advertised.
Regional manager Ivor Wilkins said: "It's very seldom people actually ask for them. On occasion we have put signs up. It's generally the bigger venues, when we have got one of the heavy metal fraternity on."
The RNID's campaign, Don't Lose the Music, wants both the government and the public to start treating the issue as a serious public health concern, much along the lines of the safe sex message.
They want a national maximum noise exposure level for music venues and education of young people, as well as signs in venues showing noise levels and ear plug provision.
The RNID recommends clubbers and gig-goers try earplugs that lower the volume without distorting the music, available for £10-£15, and that musicians and DJs look at custom models costing £70-150. But will young people wear them?
Mr Dick said that while DJs now understood the risks and often opted for earplugs, clubbers would be harder to persuade.
"At the moment clubbers are under a lot of pressure. You can't smoke in clubs. Ear plugs might be a step too far, you can't wrap everybody in cotton wool. I can't see it sweeping the nation."
Send us your comments using the form below.
It's not just nightclubs, I put earplugs in for the cinema and I can hear everything perfectly. The pub I was in on Friday night was so noisy my friends and I had to sit out on the pavement just to be able to talk, and I mean on the pavement, not on the pavement furniture. I just don't get why noise is necessary.
Different types of sound cause differing damage. White noise and higher frequencies can be more damaging. More harmful that a loud PA system is an overdriven and distorted PA. Its annoying when you go to a gig or club and the sound system is turned up too high and is distorting. The white noise from this distortion is very harmful so sometimes it is a good idea to turn it down. (or get a louder PA that can handle it!)
Tim Blackwell, London
So maybe we should ban loud music too? Just like smoking? Yes, that's right, destroy our freedom. It's exactly the same situation - if you don't want to expose yourself to loud music, don't go to a club. Similarly, if you don't want to expose yourself to second hand smoke, don't go to a smoking pub - go to a non-smoking pub. With smoking, now, no-one has that choice any more because we are now being TOLD what we can and can't do.
After playing in bands for 7 or 8 years, I can safely say that earplugs are a necessity! It's worth investing a little bit more in a decent pair of earplugs. You can only turn the volume down so far, without volume it's just not rock music.
Nicholas Chuter, Reading
Having suffered increased hearing loss from attending many small gigs and clubs over the years, this is an issue that people only start to show an interest in once the damage has been done (not like myself).
I used to have tinnitus for days after particularly loud gigs. I loved the music, but hated the persistent ringing.
I now wear earplugs to all venues, as this is the only way I can continue to enjoy live music. Unfortunately, the wearing of earplugs is far from "cool" and still seems to be greeted with curiosity from those unaware of the effects of long term exposure. This is a big issue, that is only destined to get worse with increasingly louder sound systems. Can't kick your gigs or clubs? Then wear some plugs.
John E, Sydenham, London
I'm 53 now but when I was in my teens and 20's. listened to lots of loud music. Didn't notice anything more serious than a bit of temporary deafness/dullness or ringing. Then, when I was about 35, I went to see David Bowie and Tin Machine. Boy, was that loud! And, sadly, the ringing has never stopped. 24/7, I have a high-pitched ring in my head. Mostly, I can tune out of it. But, sometimes, in quiet surroundings or lying in bed at night, it seems to fill my head. There's nothing can be done about it either. Would I have taken notice of warnings when I was younger? I doubt it. But I wish I had!
Alastair, Reading, UK
I'm already suffering tinnitus and hearing loss even after wearing earplugs to most gigs. I once asked the staff at the Roundhouse for earplugs at a death metal concert because I had forgotten mine. I may as well have asked if they would give me a piggy back so I could see better.
I went to Gatecrasher in May and after reading in Mixmag that they provide earplugs i decided to put them to the test. It was so loud on the dancefloor and the foam plugs i was given did the trick. They didn't make the music sound better but i didn't have ringing ears when i left which was a bonus. Having long hair i didn't feel like an idiot. I think for some earplugs are about as cool as cycling helmets!
Caroline Burns, Southam
I've got tinnitus in my ears from years of noisy clubs and gigs. It's easy to say now I should have worn ear plugs, but would I have done it at the time when I had no problems? No, of course not.
Now I don't think twice before popping them in (to avoid further damage), but find it easier to just avoid these places altogether. It's hard to have conversations and feel relaxed and comfortable with stuffed up ears!
Pete Richardson, Bromsrove, UK
Maybe I have especially sensitive ears, but after years of gigging as a teenager my hearing has definitely suffered. I find it hard to follow conversations if there is a lot of background noise - say in a cafe or restaurant, and simply cannot hear high pitch noises (including my washing machine beep when it finishes its cycle) at all. Sad as it sounds, if I do go clubbing or to a gig nowadays I usually wear earplugs as my hearing is affected so badly the following day. I loved going to gigs and clubs back in the day, but now I have to wonder, especially as it will probably get worse with time - was it really worth it?
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