Rob Barrie – Science and Technology Editor
The lack of regulations on nightclub noise level means hearing in young adults is being irreversibly damaged.
Research suggests that prolonged exposure to noise levels over 70 decibels (dB) can damage hearing – 70 dB is the equivalent of using a garden leaf blower for a few hours without headphones. The level of noise people are exposed to at nightclubs is far more worrying. There is neither a law nor regulations on the maximum noise level venues can reach.
A study by the RNID, the largest charity representing the approximately nine million deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the United Kingdom, found that many nightclubs within the UK reach levels of 110 dB. This is the equivalent of an aircraft taking off. Whilst there has not been a nationwide study in the UK, the United States of America reports that 17% of teens suffer from noise-induced hearing loss.
During fresher’s week especially, where nightclubs are attended on consecutive days, many students wake up with ringing in the ears. For some it’s whooshing or a buzzing, but all these irritating symptoms are called ‘tinnitus’ – derived from the Latin word ‘tinnire’ – to ring. Tinnitus is a manifestation of hearing damage.
Humans hear by decoding incoming sound to the ear. Within the ear are tiny hair cells that vibrate depending on different frequencies – listening to a friend, piano or birds chirping, will all produce unique frequencies. The movement of the hair cells produces a code that travels to the brain as an electrical signal, where your auditory cortex interprets it. It’s a beautifully sophisticated system that has, unfortunately, not evolved to cope with unnaturally loud noises. Most noise levels in nightclubs break, or completely destroy, these hair cells. The result is broken, constant electrical signals that the brain interprets as ringing.
Whether tinnitus is permanent or not is dependent on the amount of exposure, the exact noise level and also the subjective response of the individual’s ear. Unfortunately, hair cells are unable to regenerate or grow back. Thus, after repeated episodes of tinnitus, there will likely be some resultant hearing damage. Moreover, there are no cures or drugs that can help alleviate tinnitus. The sophistication of the hearing system we are all born with means that medical intervention is hard to achieve. Thus, prevention is the only way to avoid noise induced hearing loss.
Opinions differ on how to achieve this. There is a call on nightclubs to lower the volume of music emitted from the speakers to a safer level – although this will of course be hard to regulate. Others have called for more clubs to install ‘relax rooms’, where nightclubbers can take a break from the music.
Arguably, the best course of action is to educate those going to the clubs. Many falsely believe that noise levels in clubs and music gigs are regulated, and so will attend without a second thought to the consequences on their hearing. It would be advisable for clubs to put signs up stating that their noise level is far above that necessary for safe hearing, and that earplugs are recommended. They may not look fashionable, but earplugs can save generations of nightclubbers from hearing loss.