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.



  1. Most people with tinnitus have it due to excess noise exposure. Excess noise damages the hair cells inside the cochlea. When they are damaged they release high amounts of glutamate, and excitatory neurotransmitter. Glutamate causes the neurons in the auditory cortex to fire continuously until they become chemically depleted and die. This results in tinnitus. There are many other causes of tinnitus and several therapies discussed in the following article. Unfortunately, there is no cure for tinnitus.


  2. Hyperacusis – a reduced tolerance to sound giving rise to pain – can arise after a single exposure to very loud noise and is a life changing condition, yet it is very poorly publicised. Many people have to give up education, jobs and social life because they can no longer tolerate the noises of everyday life.

  3. If we tell people Tinnitus and Hyperacusis are risks, they will sound far more threatening and frightening than just hearing loss. Everyone just nods their head when you tell them that’s a risk. But when you describe HYPERACUSIS and TINNITUS, they will protect themselves.

    Most people have heard of Tinnitus, so educational advertising should warn of that. Hyperacusis needs more publicity so people understand how devastating it can be to get pain from everyday sounds all around you.

    I’m deeply grateful that this study and article included Hyperacusis. If anyone is suffering from pain they get from everyday sounds, join us on Facebook in the group “Hyperacusis Sufferers”.

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