Loud Movies & Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Loud Movies & Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

In Hearing Health, Hearing Loss by Roselynn Gamboa Young, Au.D., CCC-A

Roselynn Gamboa Young, Au.D., CCC-A

Movie lovers are welcoming the return to cinemas, complete with the sharp picture, comfortable seats, and wide array of snacks. This viewing experience is far better than what most of us experience at home, and the feeling of immersion can transform a movie into a full-body experience. When you go to the cinema, you might feel like you are stepping away from your life for a little while, fully absorbed into the alternate reality of the movie. This viewing experience relies on the ability of the cinema to overwhelm the senses, but one aspect of that overwhelming experience can actually be dangerous: movie theater sound. Although regulations are in place for the maximum volume permitted in cinemas, it’s quite common for individual theaters to cross this boundary. Just how loud can sound in movie theaters be? What can you do to protect your hearing if you’re a movie lover? Let’s take a closer look at the risks that you might encounter in a movie theater.


Loud Volumes and Hearing Loss


In a recent report by the Today Show, an investigative reporter took a decibel meter into movie theaters to discover how loud sound can be in those environments. What they found was quit surprising, with volumes far exceeding the threshold of risk for hearing loss. One Western with lots of gunfire reached a decibel level of 97.2, and an action movie with big explosions and destruction climbed all the way to 104.9 decibels. Even a kids’ movie reached the dangerous volume of 99.3 decibels. We know that sounds this loud can cause noise-induced hearing loss, but does that mean that everyone in the theater is walking away with hearing loss?


Noise-Induced Hearing Loss


Although these decibel levels are quite dangerous, noise-induced hearing loss occurs through a combination of volume and duration. The baseline guideline for hearing loss is that a person can endure 85 decibels of volume for 8 hours without incurring hearing loss. However, with each additional 3 decibels of volume, that time shrinks in half. For instance, a volume of 88 decibels can be endured for 4 hours, and so on. As you can see, higher volumes can only be endured for a matter of minutes or even seconds before they cause damage. A person can withstand a volume of 100 decibels for only a consistent 15 minutes before damage takes place. Movies pose a complex challenge when assessing the risk of noise-induced hearing loss. Although a sudden blast might clock in at 100 decibels or more, that instantaneous sound cannot cause hearing loss on its own. However, many movies produce these sounds repeatedly, and action movies are quite risky for hearing in this regard. With a steady stream of loud blasts of sound, these movies can do real damage to your hearing.


Preventing Hearing Loss


How can you prevent hearing loss, particularly for a movie that you want to enjoy at the theater? One possibility is to talk with the projectionist or manager at your favorite cinema. You can let them know that you are concerned with the possibility of hearing loss at these movies, and you want to be able to enjoy the movie to the fullest. Some cinemas are worse culprits of playing loud sound than others. If you notice that a particular cinema has very loud sound, you can opt for another cinema that tends to have lower volumes. Finally, you can opt to wear earplugs at the movie theater. Although this might seem like a counterproductive step, it might be the only way to protect yourself from hearing damage. If you are concerned about limiting your ability to enjoy the movie, you can explore the possibilities of custom-fitted earmolds. This form of hearing protection does a great job keeping out the harmful frequencies of sound while admitting other sounds that make it possible to understand what others have to say. If you are interested in in this kind of hearing protection, simply get in touch with our hearing health professionals to learn about the possibilities. When you wear this type of advanced hearing protection, you can have the best of both worlds, protecting yourself from harmful sound while enjoying the movie at the same time.