Study Investigates Use of Earplugs and Hearing Loss Prevention

In a recent study, researchers from University Medical Center Utrecht, the Netherlands, assessed the effectiveness of earplugs in preventing temporary hearing loss immediately following music exposure.

The prevalence of acquired hearing loss has risen in past years. Particularly, noise-induced hearing loss has risen tremendously in all age groups, including children, teens, adults and the elderly.

The U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that the prevalence of adolescents with hearing loss has increased by 31 percent in the two decades since 1988.

An explanation for this trend is the increase in exposure to recreational noise, such as visiting music venues (concerts, festivals, and nightclubs).

Attendees of these recreational activities can be exposed to loud music with sound pressure levels of approximately 100 to 110 dBA for several hours.

This exposure is known to cause hearing loss. However, in most cases, noise exposure causes temporary hearing loss.

For this study, the researchers randomly assigned 51 individuals attending an outdoor music festival (for four-and-a-half hours) in Amsterdam to earplugs or no earplugs.

The average age of the participants was 27 years. The time-averaged, sound pressure level experienced was 100 dBA during the festival.

The authors found that the proportion of participants with a temporal hearing loss following sound exposure was only eight percent in the earplug group compared with 42 percent in the unprotected group.

In addition, a lower percentage of participants had tinnitus following sound exposure in the earplug group (12 percent vs 40 percent in the unprotected group).

“The present study adds proof to the scarce evidence and knowledge on this topic, which is a growing global problem,” the authors write.

“Earplugs are effective in preventing temporary hearing loss during high recreational music levels. Therefore, the use of earplugs should be actively promoted and encouraged to avoid noise-induced hearing loss.”

There are a number of methods for protecting your ears from noise-induced hearing loss, including earplugs, noise-cancellation headphones, earmuffs and more. 

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