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Op-Ed: The Music is Too Loud

by Dr. Levi A. Reiter

As an Audiologist, I am often asked by friends, acquaintances, and patients to write something about the sound levels presented at weddings and similar festive occasions. Are they possibly dangerous to our hearing abilities? Can these levels cause permanent hearing loss?

The answer to these questions depends on the loudness of the music and the length of time one listens to it.
If the combination of music level and listening time exceeds the established critical values, then yes, permanent hearing loss can result.

According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), one can be exposed to 83 dB for eight hours without incurring hearing loss. For every additional 3 dB one’s exposure time needs to be halved in order to be safe. Therefore, 86 dB is OK for four hours; 89 dB is OK for two hours; 92 dB is OK for one hour of exposure; 95 dB is safe for only ½ hour of exposure.

These finding are based on years of fine research by NIOSH scientists, and although they may seem conservative, they are recommended to preserve your hearing—a very precious commodity.

There is a very recent discovery about noise exposure that lends credence to the need to cautious about listening to sounds that are deemed too loud. It is called “synaptopathy”.

This refers to a degeneration of the connection between the inner ear’s cells and the hearing nerve that travels to the brain. In brief, when after a too loud, festive occasion one’s hearing seems to return to normal, that connection (or synapse) between the ear’s cells and hearing nerve continues to deteriorate.

Therefore, after many such exposures, and over time, one’s ability to hear may well suffer a permanent loss.
The bottom line is that the music played at weddings, etc,. should be pleasantly loud, but certainly quieter than the levels I have personally measured at several affairs, that is 95 dB plus++. We all recognize that youngsters love those loud levels, but the dangers to our hearing I believe far outweigh any other considerations.

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