Loud Movies & Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Loud noises and hearing loss

The holiday season is well upon us now, and that means it’s likely you’ll be attending the movies with friends and family. This time of year, studios usually pull out the most anticipated movies in order to wow us with visuals and sound. While movie magic will always take us places, we can only imagine and beyond it’s important to pay attention to your health. With innovations in audio technology, many theaters will bump up the sound to help us fully experience the cinematic world. However, these volumes are often loud enough to cause noise induced hearing loss.

What is Noise Induced Hearing Loss

We can listen below a safe listening threshold indefinitely. However, once sounds reach past this level, it can cause lasting hearing damage. The volume or loudness of sound is measured in decibels (dBA) and any decibel level past 85 dBA can put our hearng at risk. Since 1999, the National Association of Theatre Owners introduced the TASA (Trailer Audio Standards Association) standard. This means that moivies should not exceed 85 dBA. As long as movie should does not exceed 8 hours, this should be fine. However, this is a voluntary certification to limit, not all theaters follow.

Why are the Movies so Loud?

Theaters want to make sure you are fully emersed in the movie. They want you to feel the rumble of a spaceship or jet engine taking off. Directors, sound mixers, film editors and theatres use sound to force the viewer to pay attention. This can make the film seem more exciting, more vivid. However, the cost to our hearing may be at risk. While most theaters do not exceed an average of 85 dBA, this doesn’t mean there are not spikes in decibel levels throughout a film. An action scene full of jet planes, explosions and gun fire, can go on for 15 minuets or more. When these actions sequences surpass a safe threshold and reach 105 or more, that’s loud enough to cause damage which will last a lifetime!

What about Children and the Movies

This holiday season is a time to take your kids out to the movies for family fun. However, it’s important to take extra precautions with children. This is due to smaller ear canal, where decibels can have a quicker impact—causing permanent hearing damage. Hearing damage in children and infants may not immediately present itself till later. It can often manifest as learning and behavioral issues in school, as it is difficult to follow along in the classroom. The CDC reports that 12.5% of children have noise-induced hearing damage, and movie theaters may be part of the problem. Lee Ann Burdick, director of the Russell J. Call Children’s Center at Northeastern, says that it’s all too common for parents to hear parents complain about the noise level at movie theaters. “If it’s loud for us, can you imagine how their little ears are doing?” Burdick explains.

Noisy theaters can affect some children more than others. “I think that something that movie theaters need to consider is children with sensory issues and sensory processing issues,” Burdick says. “It’s not very accommodating to those children with sensory needs. Any exposure to loud sounds, especially above 70 to 80 dB level, puts an infant’s ears at risk and places these vulnerable patients in jeopardy for permanent damage to hearing” This means that it’s likely that movie theaters are too loud for infants and small children.

What About Adults?

Everyone of all ages is at risk for noise induced hearing loss when sounds exceed 85 dBA. To prevent this, it’s essential that you come prepared. Different theaters will be louder than others. The next time you visit the movies, you can download a free app which measures the average decibel level in the theater. This can give you clue to if the level is dangerous for you and your family. Most moviegoers go to standard screenings, though, and may experience the negative effects of the noise exposure. The key to protecting your hearing is reducing the volume and length of exposure. Come prepared to your next screening with hearing protection.

If you do have hearing loss we can help. Schedule your next hearing exam with us!