July 3, 2012, by Tara de Cozar

Loud music wrecks your hearing – discuss

Well, on the evidence of a study sample of one – me – the answer looks to be yes…

Following on from the PG research showcase, I’ve been looking into PhD student Robert Mackinnon’s research into whether loud music really does have an effect on your hearing. He’s leading the first research project of its kind, a study which examines explicitly the effect of sustained exposure to loud music on hearing. He’s based at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) National Biomedical Research Unit in Hearing at the University and he’s looking for more than 2,000 volunteers to take part. Businesses with employees based in ‘quiet’ (ie office) environments will be particularly targeted to provide volunteers, as this helps to rule out the effect of work-related noise. In addition to working in a ‘quiet’ environment, Rob’s also looking for ‘older’ (*cough*) volunteers, aged between 30 and 65 — old enough to have been exposed to more loud music than the average teenager, but young enough to be unaffected by age-related hearing loss. Participants in the study will be asked to fill in a questionnaire on their music exposure and lifestyle before taking a 20-minute hearing test.

Fortunately (unfortunately) I fall within that age range, and have consistently been exposed to loud music for about 22 years, at my reckoning. Gigs, clubs and headphones. To be honest, it’s been more about the headphones in recent years… In fact, I’m sat writing this with my Spotify playlist blasting into my lugholes at a silly volume. I’m currently recalling being a sulky teenager in the back of my parents’ car, refusing to listen to Radio 4 pressing my Sony Walkman headphones into the side of my head to block out the hiss of the Archers with some Ned’s Atomic Dustbin*. You had to do that before in-ear headphones, remember? My mum said then that it would ruin my hearing, and I just sneered and hid behind my fringe. I took the test, which asks you to identify a series of three-digit numbers spoken against a buzz of ambient noise.

Well mother, perhaps you can now say “I told you so” with scientific back up. I struggled to hear the numbers and found myself screwing up my eyes and leaning in closer to the screen – as if that would help me hear better. The results suggest that my hearing is a little below normal…

Of course, you can’t take the hypothesis as truth from one test, but Rob is looking to collect at least 2,000 detailed results. And cross-referenced with the lifestyle info gleaned from the questionnaires he hopes to determine not just IF music affects your hearing, but how much, and at what levels of exposure. This will then be used as a starting point to define safe listening limits, because as Rob (and, no doubt, my mum…) says, prevention is better than cure.

If you’re part of an ‘older generation of (better!) music listeners’ and want to volunteer, or are interested in finding out more about the project, contact Rob at msxrm1@nottingham.ac.uk

The study is funded by the National Institute for Hearing Research.

*Then, as now, my taste was suspect.

Posted in NBRUHresearch