Booze, drugs, skipping earplugs linked to hearing loss at concerts

(Reuters Health) - Temporary hearing loss after a concert may be more likely in people who drink, use drugs and avoid earplugs, a small Dutch experiment suggests.

Researchers studied 51 people at an outdoor music festival in Amsterdam, asking half of them to wear earplugs. All but two of the participants drank alcohol during the show, and 11 of them, or 22 percent, reported drug use.

Earplugs, as expected, appeared to minimize the risk of hearing loss in tests done after the 4.5-hour show. But alcohol and drug use were independently associated with temporary hearing difficulties, even when people used earplugs.

People who wore earplugs were also more likely to drink alcohol than people who didn’t wear hearing protection during the show.

“Use of earplugs will prevent damage to cells in the inner ear, and prevent temporary changes in hearing,” said Colleen Le Prell, a researcher at the University of Texas at Dallas who wasn’t involved in the study.

“The repetition of loud sound exposures and repeated injury to the inner ear can ultimately result in permanent damage, and permanent hearing loss, for which there is no cure,” Le Prell said by email.

Concertgoers should consider wearing “musicians earplugs” that result in less sound distortion than foam earplugs, Le Prell advised.

So-called acquired hearing loss - the temporary kind people can get at concerts - has become much more common in recent decades, researchers note in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery. Repeated episodes of temporary damage, like the kind that happens at a live show, can eventually lead to permanent hearing loss.

Sounds louder than about 85 decibels can lead to permanent hearing loss with repeated exposure. Concert attendees are typically exposed to sounds around 100 to 110 decibels, about as loud as a chain saw. Typical conversations happen around 60 decibels.

Age-related hearing loss happens naturally over time, affecting half of adults over 65. But younger people can avoid further damage to their ears by steering clear of loud noise and wearing proper protection when they spend long periods of time exposed to noises at for work or leisure pursuits.

The current study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how earplugs, drugs or alcohol might directly impact the risk of temporary hearing loss at concerts. Lead study author Dr. Veronique Kraaijenga of the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.

It’s also unclear from the study how far people were from the stage and any speakers, which could alter their level of noise exposure during the show, said Dr. Wilko Grolman, a researcher at the University Medical Center Utrecht who wasn’t involved in the study.

“At festival grounds, the sound exposure differs greatly and thereby the subject’s sound exposure,” Grolman said by email.

No matter how close people are to the speakers or the stage, earplugs and other precautions can help protect hearing, said Dr. Jennifer Derebery of the House Ear Clinic and House Ear Institute in Los Angeles.

“Properly fitted ear plugs make the sound that enters the inner ear less loud,” Derebery, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “If we can get the sound loudness down to a softer level, then there is less likely to be damage.”

SOURCE: JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, online April 19, 2018.