Wearing earplugs at concerts the best way to protect against tinnitus, charity says
People should wear earplugs when going to nightclubs or concerts and use noise cancelling headphones when listening to their personal music players to avoid developing tinnitus, a charity has warned.
Action on Hearing Loss said young people are particularly at risk from damaging their hearing from listening to loud music, estimating that four million could be in danger of the effects of over-amplified music.
It said its research had found that more than half (53.4%) of people aged 18 to 24 had experienced tinnitus, with 40% unaware that being exposed to loud noise can lead to permanent tinnitus.
In nightclubs or concerts, noise levels are often over 100dB which means individuals can only safely listen to music for 15 minutes without wearing ear plugs.
The charity's chief executive Paul Breckell said: "Who goes to a gig or a club for 15 minutes?
"Ear plugs are the only thing that can protect you as they take off on average 15-20dB - which takes you under the 85dB level, and makes for safer listening."
The charity said noise cancelling headphones are good for listening to music when background noise is high, such as when using buses and trains, as it means users do not have to increase the volume to override or compete.
This week is UK Tinnitus Week, which aims to raise awareness of the condition which causes a ringing, hissing, buzzing or roaring sound in one or both ears where there is no external sound source.
The problem currently affects one in every 10 adults in the UK and can have a detrimental effect on a person's life, their relationships with family and friends and their ability to sleep, concentrate and work.
While there are ways of managing the condition, there is currently no cure, which the charity is trying to rectify.
Action on Hearing Loss senior audiologist Gemma Twitchen said: "Listening to loud music on a night out or from your personal music player can affect your hair cells, a bit like the way a fresh patch of grass is affected by someone trampling over it, after a few times the grass will stand upright and tall, however over time if people continue to trample over it, it will become flat.
"This is similar to what happens to your hair cells - continued exposure can permanently damage your hearing and lead to tinnitus which could mean that listening to music, which so many young people love, becomes less enjoyable.
"You don't have to stop your love of music in order to protect yourself. It's a good idea to get good ear plugs in loud situations like gigs whether you're playing or listening - the modern ones are quite comfortable and don't ruin the listening experience as some people think."
The safe exposure time to listen to music at 85dB is eight hours. As sound intensity doubles with every increase of 3dB, the exposure time halves. For sounds of 110 - 120dB, like in nightclubs, even a short exposure time can cause hearing damage, the charity said.
Action on Hearing Loss has a dedicated Tinnitus Information Line which provides vital support to those affected, which is available by calling 0808 808 6666, or people can email tinnitushelplinehearingloss.org.uk.