Hearing Loss after a Concert Is ‘Protection’

concertThousands of music fans will be eagerly anticipating this year’s biggest summer festivals. The likes of Glastonbury, T in the Park and Download will attract many people of all ages from all over the UK, but has anyone stopped to think what the loud noise exposure will do to their hearing?

According to some new research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), hearing loss after a concert is a sign that your ears are actually protecting themselves.

Findings by scientists at the University of New South Wales in Australia reveal that short-term deafness after a gig may be the body’s way of coping, and not an indication that your ears are damaged.

However, the experts have stressed that this defence mechanism won’t work against sustained exposure, like listening to loud music through headphones.

The condition, being dubbed ‘reversible hearing loss’, is an adaptation method of the cochlea becoming accustomed to the surroundings. When sound levels rise, it releases a hormone called ATP which binds to a receptor, reducing sound sensitivity.

Professor Gary Housley said: “This explains why we lose our hearing for hours or days after we have been exposed to a rock concert, for example. The adaptation mechanism has been switched on.”

Experiments on lab mice showed that without the receptor, there was no loss of hearing sensitivity when exposed to sustained loud noise. However, the mice were much more vulnerable to permanent noise-induced hearing loss at very high noise levels.

It is claimed that people who have a genetic mutation and cannot ‘self protect’ are more likely to suffer hearing problems in later life.

The findings conclude that loud sounds on occasion can be dealt with, but constant exposure can lead to irreversible damage through the loss of high frequency hearing.

Co-author Professor Allen Ryan, from the University of California in San Diego, explained: “If the efficiency of this gene varies between individuals, as is the case for many genes, it may go some way to explaining why some people are very vulnerable to noise, or develop hearing loss with age and others don’t.”

The researchers now aim to learn how to better protect the ear against noise in loud environments.

Professor Housley added: “Because our hearing sensitivity adapts, we can withstand loud noise, but we can’t sense the absolute intensity of the sound and if we exceed the safe sound upper limit, we will damage our hearing – despite this protective adaptation mechanism we have discovered.”

(Image free to use courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)