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Did you know that watching loud movies can contribute to hearing loss? Exposure to loud noise, whether one time or regularly, is a common cause of noise induced hearing loss. Nearly 1 in 6 people have some degree of imapired hearing which affects over 48 million people. According to the World Health Organization over 1 billion people globally are at high risk of developing hearing loss from recreational noise exposure. A common source of this type of noise exposure is loud movies. Understanding this risk and practicing safety measures can support you enjoying movies while also protecting your hearing health.
How Loud are Movies?
Understanding noise levels and how loud movies can get can help you protect your ears. We navigate varying levels of noise throughout the day and some of this noise can be potentially hazardous. Sound is measured in decibels (dB) and noise that exceeds 85dB can be dangerous for hearing. This is equivalent to traffic, a noisy restaurant, and a hair dryer. Exposure time to noise above 85dB should be monitored and reduced significantly.
So how loud are movies? To answer this question, Today explored noise levels from movies in 2016 by measuring decibels in movie theaters. They recorded the following findings for specific movies that were playing in theaters:
- The Magnificent Seven: a western film with gunfire, reached 93.7dB and at its peak was 97.2dB.
- Storks: an animated feature for kids, mostly stayed under 85dB but at its peak reached 99.3dB.
- Deepwater Horizon: an action movie with explosions reached 101dB and peaked at 104.9dB
This highlights a few important findings. All three of these movies surpassed the threshold for safe listening (85dB) and reached or passed levels near 100dB. At 100dB, people should only be exposed for around 7 minutes. Surpassing this threshold can irreparably damage the auditory system – the sensory system for hearing – and cause noise induced hearing loss.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Loud noise can damage the hair cells in the inner ear. Known as stereocilia, these sensory cells play a crucial role in how sound is processed. They receive incoming soundwaves and convert them into electrical signals. These signals get carried to the brain where they are processed and assigned meaning to, which is how we understand what we hear. Exposure to excessive noise, either one time or consistently, can cause these hair cells to become desensitized. The weakening of these sensory cells reduces their ability to perform their essential function, resulting in the brain receiving less auditory information. Unlike other types of cells we have, sensory cells in the inner ear do not regenerate. Humans are actually born with all the hair cells we will ever have so any damage is permanent, causing hearing loss.
How Loud is Too Loud?
The threshold for safe listening is identified as 85dB for 8 hours. Exposure to noise levels above 85dB should be reduced by half for every 3 decibel increase of sound. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) guidelines for safe listening includes:
- 85dB: 8 hours
- 88dB: 4 hours
- 91dB: 2 hours
- 94dB: 30min
- 97dB: 15min
- 100dB: 7min
These guidelines highlight that movies that reach nearly 105dB can be dangerous for hearing. A good measure to know if a movie you’ve watched was too loud is if you experience a buzzing or ringing noise in the ears after leaving the theater. Or if you have difficulty hearing right after watching a movie. These signs indicate that you were exposed to excessive noise levels.
Tips to Protect Hearing Health
Noise induced hearing loss is completely preventable. There are simple safety measures you can take to help protect your hearing health. This includes:
- Wear hearing protection: earbuds, earmuffs, and headphones are protective wear that provides a physical barrier for the ears. This reduces the amount of loud noise you absorb.
- Take listening breaks: stepping away from noisy settings and even taking a break from a movie by going to the bathroom or grabbing food provides your ears with some time to rest and recover from absorbing and processing noise.
- Test hearing: get your hearing tested annually which helps you track your hearing health and identify any symptoms you may experience early on.