11 million people in the UK have some form of hearing loss. Many of these are older people, but they may have developed hearing loss through exposure to noise when they were younger, so it is important for people of any age to protect themselves from damage to their hearing. Many more people suffer with tinnitus or ringing in the ears, which can be very disabling.
Hearing loss can be caused by a single short exposure to an intense sound e.g. an explosion, or by more prolonged exposure to loud noise, such as amplified live music. Noise levels of 120 decibels or more for even a couple of minutes could lead to hearing loss and protection is recommended whenever a person’s hearing is exposed to noise levels of 85 decibels or above for any length of time. Heavy city traffic is usually about 85 decibels, while an ambulance siren is about 120 decibels. Live music gigs may generate noise levels of between 100 and 120 decibels.
Distance from the sound source also needs to be taken into account and people should consider wearing hearing protection such as well-fitting ear plugs or mufflers, or moving back from the speakers.
Protecting against hearing loss is particularly important in young children, where there is potential for much more damage to occur to their hearing than in adults. Most of the development relating to the brain and hearing takes place in the first 3½ years of life, with the first year being particularly important.
Children being carried, or in pushchairs don’t have the option of moving away from a source of noise, and they may also be too young to make their parents/carers aware they are being affected. Not all ear muffs provide adequate protection. So the advice for those attending festivals with children is to ensure they are wearing reliable ear protection, that it is being worn correctly and that they are kept well away from the speaker area or front of the stages.