Turn down the Volume? An examination of the effects of nightclubs on hearing
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests excessive noise levels in nightclubs have an adverse effect on hearing, and may ultimately be responsible for noise-induced hearing loss.
A study by researchers at the University of Birmingham found that although students didn’t want to alter their attendance, the majority would rather see noise limits reduced to safe limits, contrary to the widely held preconception that high volume levels in nightclubs are demanded by young people.
The hearing of all employees in the music and entertainment sector is now protected by The Control of Noise at Work Regulations (2005), which require employers to prevent or reduce risks to employees’ hearing in the workplace when exposed to noise levels above 85 dB. However, this law does not apply to members of the public attending nightclubs, as it is presumed they are making an informed decision to attend such venues.
This study investigated the prevalence of symptoms related to noise-induced hearing loss that were experienced by students after attending nightclubs. It also aimed to explore students’ awareness of the association between noise-induced hearing loss and nightclub attendance, and examine their attitudes towards this.
A questionnaire was distributed to students entering or leaving the University of Birmingham Medical School over a 5-day period during March 2012, with a total of 357 individuals completing the questionnaire, with almost half the students attending a nightclub at least once per week.
Of those students surveyed in the present study (excluding those who never attended nightclubs and those with pre-existing hearing problems), 88% had experienced transient tinnitus after attending a nightclub. This finding is important because transient tinnitus can also be a precursor to other noise-induced hearing loss symptoms, including permanent tinnitus, hyperacusis or irreversible hearing loss.
The majority of students in the sample population (90%) were aware that current nightclub noise levels are potentially damaging to hearing. However, most students who attended nightclubs (73%) reported that they would not alter their attendance, despite being told that the noise levels could lead to permanent hearing loss. Nonetheless, 70% of nightclub attendees agreed that noise levels should be limited to volumes that are not damaging to hearing.
Mr Oliver Johnson, one of the paper’s authors, commented. “This is encouraging for policy makers, as noise levels could potentially be lowered below the threshold for hearing damage without nightclub attendance being significantly compromised. The implementation of relevant legislation could therefore potentially reduce the long-term risks of irreversible hearing loss in this young age group without damaging the nightclub industry.”
The study also demonstrated that 87% of students with normal hearing had never received information about noise-induced hearing loss or had earplugs recommended in the nightclub setting. The findings and those of other research groups indicate that young people attending nightclubs are at high risk of noise-induced hearing loss, and it is therefore of the utmost importance that they should be provided with adequate information regarding the potential damage that excessive music levels in nightclubs may cause.
Mr Johnson added, “We believe the current assumption implied by legislation, namely that nightclub attendees are consenting to the risks of hearing damage, is spurious, as the majority of young people in nightclubs are likely to be unaware of these risks.”
The full paper “British university students’ attitudes towards noise-induced hearing loss caused by nightclub attendance” is published in The Journal of Laryngology & Otology and can be read free of charge for a limited time here.