“Goodbye yellow brick road,” Elton John belted out the title song of his final concert tour. My family rarely attends concerts — given my hearing loss I worry about damaging it further — but we are big Elton John fans and could not bear to miss our last chance to see him perform live. The sold out show in Madison Square Garden was outstanding with the crowd singing along to its favorite oldies but goodies. My family and I were able to enjoy the performance because we came prepared with hearing protection and the knowledge of how to use it. You can read my tips for attending a concert in my article, “How To Enjoy a Concert Safely When You Have Hearing Loss.”
As we made our way to our seats, the irony dawned on me. We were not allowed to smoke, to bring in outside food or drink, or even use caps on our plastic water bottles (I guess they think people will throw them?!?), but we could blast our ears with 110 decibel sound for 3 hours without any rules stating otherwise. There was not even a posted sign suggesting we protect our hearing with earplugs or ear muffs. Something seemed wrong with that.
I began my pre-show preparations. I turned my in-the-ear hearing aids to sleep mode and donned my noise-cancelling headphones, creating a double barrier against the noise. For now I left the noise-cancelling feature turned off, saving that for the show.
I encouraged my family to do the same, but they were reluctant. “It’s not that loud right now,” one of my teenage children said. “But it will be when it starts,” I warned, “you will be glad you were set up in advance.” Being teenagers, they did not listen, but I have never seen two people whip on their hearing protection faster than when the concert started with a literal bang as Bennie and the Jets boomed onto the stage.
Below is a screenshot of my iPhone decibel reader app during the show. It’s A Noisy Planet, a program of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), warns that sounds between 94 and 110 decibels can damage your hearing in as few as 15 minutes of exposure. At the concert, the noise registered more than 105 decibels with an average level of 103 decibels and a maximum level of 112 decibels, all dangerous levels. Check out It’s A Noisy Planet’s informative bookmark to see safe listening times for various types of sounds.
Later that week we saw the movie A Star Is Born, featuring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. It was a tragic and beautiful film about love, loss and the music business. Most interesting to me was the subplot of hearing loss and tinnitus underlying the story. Both issues seemed to be major contributors to the main character’s alcoholism and life challenges.
It was encouraging to see a leading character in a movie openly discuss hearing loss, visit an audiologist, and suffer through bouts of tinnitus, all of which help raise awareness of these important issues. But, again, the irony was not lost on me, as the drama played out on the screen at an unsafe 90 decibels. I always bring my noise-cancelling headphones to the movies, so I was prepared, but I felt sorry for the others in the theater who were doing possible damage to their hearing as they watched a story demonstrating the imperative need to protect it.
Readers, why aren’t entertainment venues doing more to promote safe listening levels?
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