Summer is in full swing and so are the outdoor festivals. Throughout history, humans have loved coming together as a community through festival celebration. The word festival was actually derived from Latin roots in the fourteenth century, and stems from the word “feast” dating back to the twelfth century. Historically, a festival was a way for a community to highlight or acclaim a specific aspect of their culture, religion, folklore, or agricultural processes.
While varied in geography and purpose, most historical festivals shared a commonality: music and dancing. The same is true today. Festivals, regardless of type, tend to be places of jubilant celebration and loud music. While these festivals and their associated noises can bring attendees a lot of joy, they also come with a bit of a dark side: their ability to damage your hearing.
Are festivals really that loud?
Not all festivals are created equal in their noise levels and potential for hearing damage. As one would expect, music festivals are the loudest – and are therefore the most likely to cause damage. In fact, a recent study published in Noise and Health, found that the average outdoor concertgoer was exposed to sounds at 95dBA, and 8% of participants were exposed to sounds at 100dBA or higher (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/10710843_The_sound_exposure_of_the_audience_at_a_music_festival). Combine the fact that a sound level at 95dBA has the potential to cause damage in only about 1 hour, and most outdoor musical festivals last all day if not multiple days, it is easy to see how quickly these festivals can damage one’s hearing.
Ok, but only young people attend these concerts, and young people don’t experience hearing loss, right?
Wrong on both counts. Actually, the type of hearing loss that can be experience after noisy events such as outdoor music festivals is called Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL). NIHL can affect anyone, at any age. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that over a billion young people aged 12-35 are at risk for developing noise induced hearing loss because of their noisy recreational activities. In terms of average age of festival attendees, about 16% of attendees were 35 or older according to a recent survey. Some newer festivals are actually specifically targeted for an older crowd, such as Desert Trip, which has been dubbed “Coachella for older people” or “Oldchella” (https://edition.cnn.com/2016/05/04/entertainment/desert-trip-coachella-old-people/index.html).
Regardless of these facts, it is very important that all of us – no matter what our age – are aware of the dangers of excessive noise exposure and how to protect ourselves from it.
How do I protect my hearing at an outdoor festival?
You don’t have to stay home in order to protect your hearing at outdoor music fests. There are some simple rules you can follow to help protect your hearing and still enjoy the vibes.
- Wear hearing protection. This one is by far the most important. If you do nothing else on this list, please use hearing protection at your festivals. If you attend concerts regularly, it might we a wise investment to purchase custom-fit hearing protection that is specifically targeted towards music-lovers. These types of earplugs are very comfortable because they are form-fitted to your ears, and also are specially crafted to ensure you hear the music the way it was intended. If custom plugs are not an option, disposable earplugs can also do the trick and can be purchased at almost any drug store and are very inexpensive.
- Choose a good spot. This doesn’t mean be front row! Take a minute to scan the venue setup. Most often, speakers are located on the sides of the stage. If this is the case, find a spot towards the middle or back of the audience. Even if you are standing further back, if you are in direct line of the speakers, you can still experience quite a blast.
- Take mini noise retreats. Noise induced hearing loss is cumulative, meaning the more often you expose yourself to noise, the more likely you are to experience loss. It is important to take mini breaks during a festival where you find a quiet place to give your ears a break. You’re not going to love each and every artist at the event – so find some time to decompress between sets. Also, take a day before or after your festival to have a day of quiet. Put down the personal listening device, turn off the TV and instead read a book or simply experience the beautiful peace of nature. Your ears will thank you!
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