Guarding against hearing loss
Simple precautions can protect ears of music lovers
From Neil Curry
(CNN) -- If you've ever experienced ringing in your ears after a night of clubbing or attending a gig, tune in now. There are simple measures you can take to avoid permanent hearing damage.
People love music, and many people love it loud. But whether you're a performer or promoter, roadie or fan, if you want to continue enjoying music, you need to protect your hearing.
"Once the hearing's been damaged due to noise, there's no remedy at all," said professor Mark Lutman, an audiology expert at the University of Southampton in England.
"Once the hair cells in the inner ear are damaged, they never recover. There's no mechanism for replacement or recovery, so the hearing loss is there for life."
London-based charity Royal National Institute for the Deaf conducted a study on hearing damage caused by music and launched a campaign called "Don't Lose the Music," aimed at educating fans on how to protect their hearing while enjoying music.
RNID has lobbied fans at music festivals and offered earplugs to clubbers jetting off to dance meccas such as Ibiza, Spain.
The group's top tips for hearing loss prevention include standing away from speakers, taking regular breaks from the music in quieter areas of the venue and using proper earplugs, rather than makeshift toilet tissue plugs.
"Three out of four people who go clubbing regularly experience the signs of permanent hearing damage and that's a great concern for future young people," said Brian Dow, of RNID.
DJ Louis Millichamp suffers from tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.
"It's there 24 hours a day. It's [there] when everything gets quiet and there's no noise around," Millichamp said.
He had been DJ-ing for about seven years when he first started noticing a slight ringing in the ears -- the kind of ringing people may experience coming out of a nightclub after sitting too close to a speaker.
It took Millichamp a while to realize he had a problem and that it was tied to loud music. That response is not unusual, according to Dow.
"The research showed that the majority of people were not aware that ringing in the ears can be a sign of permanent hearing damage, and that's a concern because it's often experienced by people who are going [to gigs or clubs] regularly," Dow said.
More than a reduction in volume, the effect of noise on hearing is a reduction in clarity, Professor Lutman said.
Patients with hearing loss due to noise often report that they have more difficulty than they used to hearing against background noise.
"So, for example, if they are in a pub, and there's a lot of people talking in the background, they may miss out on conversation when their friends are able to follow it," Lutman said.
Many nightclubs will pump out music at around 100 decibels -- a level similar to having workmen drilling right next to you. Hearing damage can occur at a mere 85 decibels. Turning down the volume would seem to be the simplest solution.
But it's not that simple, according to Rob Barton. Barton is the production manager at Egg Nightclub in London.
"People come to clubs to listen to their favorite music and hear it as they've never heard it before. ... They come to a club to hear it on a big loud sound system with lots of flashing lights and have an experience that they don't normally get," Barton said.
So the music is loud, but the Egg takes measures to protect both clubbers and staff. The venue is designed so that customers can see upon entry quieter areas they may want to take a break in later. They also have signs warning people that they're entering high decibel areas and letting them know where to get earplugs.
Part of the problem, Lutman said, is that young people minimize the warning signs of hearing damage.
"Young people tend to push risk aside quite readily, and as we all know, many people go to nightclubs and don't protect their hearing."
Tinnitus sufferer Millichamp urges music lovers to wear earplugs. "It's not very attractive, and they do reduce the noise, but it's better than having a constant noise 24 hours a day," he said.
Dow agrees that simple precautions are the best defense.
"Keep going to clubs, go to festivals, enjoy music. That is what it's there for," he said.
"But when you are doing that, take some sensible steps. Don't expose yourself to long-term hearing damage because if you do that, pretty soon you're not going to enjoy the very things that you love."
CNN.com's Marnie Hunter contributed to this report.