Did you know that there are more people in America with some form of hearing loss than the number of food stamp recipients? According to CHCHearing.org, 48 million Americans, from infants to aging adults are impacted by this issue. Although “90 percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents,” many individuals may have significant hearing difficulties that develop from their environmental soundscape. If the noise of a thundering subway ride for fifteen minutes a day can cause a hearing loss over time, what damage is done by wearing constantly pulsating headphones, or sitting mesmerized by the big screen’s thundering car crashes and alien war soundtracks?
Sound pressure – thus its loudness – is measured by decibels (dB). DangerousDecibels.org says that 0 dB sounds like rustling leaves. A regular conversation runs around 60 dB. With an increased decibel measurement, there is an increased possibility of “noise induced hearing loss.” Sustained exposure to 85 dB or more can cause permanent hearing loss. This is due to those frequencies hitting “the microscopic hair cells found inside the cochlea.” These hairs, or “sterocilia” can be broken, or damaged and this impacts our normal ability to hear 20Hz to 20,000Hz. Over ten million people have this type of hearing loss. Today.com reports that an escape to your local movie theater with its extraordinarily loud soundtracks is also a “source of premature hearing reduction.”
Jeff Rosen, the Today.com reporter, went to the movies with a sound meter. He measured three movies. The animated children’s movie called “Storks” mostly remained under 85 dB, but “had a peak of 93.3.” The old western titled “The Magnificent Seven” with all the shooting ranged between 93.7 and 97.2. The most audio damaging film Rosen encountered was “Deepwater Horizon.” Fires, shouting, explosions and the mayhem measured at 101 dB and got as high as 104.9. If you are only subject to these intense levels of sound for even a minute, there can be permanent damage.
Movie theaters do have some control over the audio they are transmitting, although they can’t do much about the sudden loud spikes. And they report that complaints about sounds have been few and far between. For perspective, Hear-it.org says that when you’re in traffic, there is a sustained noise level of 70 – 78 dB. This is not pleasant, but it is not dangerous. They measured “The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers,” and it had an average of 78 dB with a peak at 95dB. Their perspective is that you may be in traffic for an hour, but a movie can last up to three hours. And these peaks are damaging you without your knowledge.
If you’ve ever walked away from a movie theater all abuzz with ears booming, or you can’t hear normally for a few minutes after watching the big screen, these could be signs of damage to your hearing. Reporter Jeff Rosen suggests downloadable apps for your iPhone or Android that can measure the movie’s decibel levels. You could also use those old fashioned ear plugs.