Blockbuster Bust: How Loud Movies Carry Hearing Risk

Blockbuster Bust: How Loud Movies Carry Hearing Risk

People who work in noisy industries, spending hours each day in loud situations, are usually the first to come to mind when discussing the dangers of noise-induced hearing loss. It’s true that there is a higher incidence of hearing loss among factory workers, military staff, and musicians than among people in other occupations. Thankfully, there are federally-enforced laws in place at the federal level to safeguard workers’ hearing as it relates to the workplace.

But our recreational lives are outside of federal law, existing in a place where sound limits aren’t enforced. That’s why it’s so crucial to have a conversation about the everyday situations in which we knowingly risk our hearing. 

Excessive noise exposure from sports and pastimes including snowmobile, sport shooting, and concert-going can all cause irreversible hearing loss. But there’s something that people do all the time — you might even call it another national pastime — that can actually be quite dangerous. Every week, movies with ear-splitting soundtracks play in theaters around the country. There is no federal regulation limiting how loud movies can be played, so going to the theater down the street could be hazardous to your health.

How Does Volume Impact Our Ears?

There are two primary factors that contribute to hearing loss in older adults. The risk of hearing damage, often known as age-related hearing loss, increases with age. The damage done to ears by loud noises, or noise-induced hearing loss, is a close second. In many cases, it’s a mix of the two that’s to blame.

Our ears’ capacity to hear has been refined over thousands of years of relative quiet. The world after the Industrial Revolution is significantly noisier due to the prevalence of machinery and amplification. The delicate cells in the inner ear that collect noise are vulnerable to harm from excessively loud environments. These cells are unable to self-repair or regenerate after being injured. Instead, our ability to receive the full spectrum of noise fades away. The brain receives less sound information to process and our experience is hearing less. 

How Loud Is Too Loud?

Exposure to loud noises can cause hearing loss immediately or slowly and over time.  Exposure to noises louder than 120 dB (the decibel is the unit of measurement for volume) can cause instant and permanent hearing loss. Such noises can induce sudden hearing loss, as in the case of an explosion or other accident. 

Hearing can be gradually but irreparably damaged by exposure to even those sounds just beyond the safe range, particularly if it happens often and over long periods of time. Below 85 decibels is considered a safe zone for our ears. Once that volume is reached, the window of safety narrows. Currently, experts advise caution when sounds reaches more than 85 decibels.

Theater Volumes Are Risky Volumes

It is common practice for movie theaters to play films louder than 100 decibels. In 2016, an investigation revealed that the volume of even children’s movies often exceeded 85 dB. Although 85 dB is the recommended threshold for hearing health, individual theater owners are free to set their own levels. As digital audio has become more common, some cinemas have turned up the volume to provide a more exhilarating experience. 

Eradicate Risk When Possible

You shouldn’t avoid going to the movies or bring earplugs with you, although they might come in handy if you’re visiting a new theater for the first time. Instead, you may use apps like SoundMeter or Decibel X to turn your phone into a decibel meter. With the push of a button, you can keep tabs on your surrounding noise levels. Check to see if the noise levels at your local movie theater pose a threat to your hearing health.

Pay attention to how the volume makes your ears feel in the theater, even if you don’t measure it. A person should never feel any sort of pain or discomfort while watching a film. If that’s the case, you should probably look for another theater to frequent, one that doesn’t pose a hearing health threat.  

Schedule A Hearing Consultation

Schedule an appointment with our staff for a hearing test if you think noise-induced hearing loss is having a negative effect on your daily life. We can guide you through the straightforward procedure of a hearing exam. Together, we’ll explore the best course of action to restore your hearing and life’s vitality.