Buttered popcorn, a cold drink, and the hottest new Hollywood flick! What could be better than a movie on the big screen?
While raucous chase scenes and hiding behind your hands in horror are a part of the movie-going experience, it’s important to take a moment to consider your hearing health when you make your way to the movies. New research has found that there is significant risk of noise-induced hearing loss when it comes to excessively high volumes at the cinema.
Normal conversation registers at approximately 60 decibels, and hearing specialists warm us that without proper protection, eight hours of exposure at 85 decibels could lead to permanent hearing loss. Unless you’re at the movies for four feature films, it’s unlikely you’ll spend eight hours in sounds over 85 decibels.
However, it’s important to consider that some movies expose us to sounds over 85 decibels in just two hours, which is considered to be “loud” or “extremely loud.” Every three-decibel increase cuts the recommended exposure time in half.
What does it sound like at the movies? Today, the news show, investigates.
Sound at the Movies
Almost 100 years ago, with the debut of The Jazz Singer, sound and image were combined at the movies. At the time, many purists decried that it was the end of cinema, while others embraced the innovation in the art form. It’s a different picture these days, according to the American Hearing Research Foundation, in which “movies are a source of premature hearing reduction.”
In an investigative piece, Today’s national correspondent Jeff Rossen took a sound level meter to the movies. He recorded the following:
- The Magnificent Seven, a western film, clocked in at 93.7 decibels, climbing to 97.2 decibels
- Storks, a children’s movie, hovered around 85 decibels but at one point hit a peak of 99.3 decibels
- Deepwater Horizon, an action flick with lots of explosions, hit 101 to 104.9 decibels.
What does this mean for our hearing? According to Kit Frank, an audiologist at NYU, “If you’re reaching over 100 [decibels] for even minutes at a time, seconds at a time, you could be into that range where you could get immediate permanent damage.”
Furthermore, “If you leave the movie theater and your ears are ringing, that’s a sign that you could potentially have some damage from the loud noise,” says Frank.
In terms of governing bodies that might regulate these levels, there isn’t much, according to the Today report. Though there are standards in place, “it’s up to each individual theater to control the volume.” Volumes may fluctuate through the course of the movie, but supposedly they are not supposed to exceed the recommend 85 decibel level. At the same time, the National Association of Theatre Owners reported that “complaints about sound levels are rare and infrequent.”
Protect Yourself from Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Damage to your hearing from exposure to loud noise can range from temporary hearing loss to ringing in the ears. Over time, permanent hearing loss can develop, as the hair cells in the inner ear are damaged beyond repair, preventing the transmission of sound to the brain.
While two hours in loud noise may not appear to be a big issue, consider that it does add up over time – especially if you’re a film-lover! The Center for Disease Control and Prevention report that an estimated 12.5% of children and adolescents and 17% of adults have already suffered permanent damage to their hearing from excessive exposure to noise. “If you leave the movie theater and your ears are ringing, that’s a sign that you could potentially have some damage from the loud noise,” says Frank.
Protect yourself from noise-induced hearing loss. You could download a sound meter app on your smartphone and test it out at the next movie you see. If you see levels climbing past 85 decibels, notify the theater owner and ask them to turn it down. You could take further steps to protect your hearing by bringing a pair of earplugs along to the movies.
Are you concerned that you are experiencing hearing loss? Curious about your current hearing abilities? Contact us at Hearing Health to schedule a hearing test and consultation.