Loud Movies & Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

August 3, 2022

The movie industry is still in recovery mode after years of an unpredictable pandemic. However, with the news of movie pass returning, it seems to be a sign that, despite obstacles, going to the movies is a tradition which is starting to come back strong. For those of you who have spent the past 2- or 3-years watching movies at home, you may be more sure than ever that there really isn’t anything like the watching a movie on the big screen. Besides a bigger picture, it’s the joy of going into a dark movie theater with popcorn and candy. It’s that thrill when the lights go on and the sound and light start booming over everything. It’s a totally immersive experience, which is how most movie makers first intended their films to be viewed.

However, it’s important to consider how loud the sound in the movie theater may be. As great as amazing going to see a movie at the theater can be, it often comes with an unrecognized health risk: hearing damage. Today’s theaters offer cutting-edge surround sound which can reach decibels which have the potential to leave you with permanent hearing loss.

What Is Too Loud?

Sounds feel us with joy, like when we hear the voice of someone we love or even elation when our favorite song comes on. However, even sounds that we love can damage our hearing when the volume is turned up too loud. The volume of sound is measured in decibels. Any sound which surpasses a safe listening decibel threshold, can cause such extreme vibrations within our inner ear that it damages the tiny cells which transmit sound from our ears to our brains. To be specific it’s not just the level of decibels but the length of exposure. For instance, the threshold for safe listening ends at an exposure of 85 dBA for eight hours or more. However, the louder the exposure the less time it takes for permanent hearing damage to occur. At 95 dBA it only takes under an hour and at 105 it can take as little as 15 minuets! As damage occurs, we slowly collect less cells which can transmit sound as the fewer of these working cells we have available to us, the less accurate our hearing becomes.

Back to the Movies

The problem is that many of us won’t even realize when we are damaging our hearing. Many of us are acclimated to a loud environment as we run from place to place through construction and traffic or listen to headphones for hours on end. If you’ve ever left a loud concert or movie theater with a buzzing in your ears, it’s a sign that you were exposed to sounds which has caused some degree of hearing loss. It’s surprising that an experience as joyous as a movie in the theater could be the source of hearing damage.

Exploring Sound Levels in the Movie Theater

To explore the extent of this potential damage, a recent investigation tested the sound levels theaters are exposing their audience too. Loud noise is a very concerning issue for older adults but hearing damage due to noise exposure is an issue for people of all ages including children. Children’s hearing can be more vulnerable to loud sounds due to smaller ear canals. This can be particularly damaging for early childhood development and speech acquisition. While there are limits in place to keep sound levels at a safe volume often even children’s movies frequently are measured at volumes that top 85 dB and even peak close to 100 dB even for short amounts of time.

However, movies for adults tend to be even louder. Even if you aren’t seeing the latest blockbuster full of explosions, a non-action film can still have a sound level which are measured around 90 dBA, while Hollywood blockbusters typically swell over 100 dBA. While there is a cap to the average decibel level throughout a movie these swells of heightened decibels can still cause hearing damage!

Protecting Your Hearing

Come prepared next time you go to the movies with hearing protection. Even portable foam ear plugs can lower the decibel volume by 15-33 dBA – enough to keep your hearing safe while enjoying the latest film. If you suspect you already have some degree of hearing loss, don’t let it go unaddressed. Contact us today to schedule a hearing exam.

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