There are over 200 music festivals in the UK that take place throughout April to September. Close to three million people are estimated to have attended a festival in the UK in 2016 alone.

This got us wondering just how many of those who attend music festivals take steps to protect their hearing?

In order to find out more about music festivals and hearing damage we got in touch with the ever-helpful team at the British Tinnitus Association and spoke to Communications Manager, Nic Wray.

How loud is too loud?

Loud noises or music can have a permanent impact on hearing. But our usual thought process for protecting our hearing tends to be forgotten when attending a music festival.

The World Health Organisation tells us that sound levels over 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing damage and music festivals are often much louder than this.

If you think you’re protected because you only attend a music festival or gig every once in a while then unfortunately you’d be wrong.

As Nic explains: ‘You only have to be exposed once to loud music for it to damage your hearing and to experience tinnitus. The noise level at some gigs and festivals is well over 100 decibels, and at that level, you only have around a minute before damage can occur.’

Tinnitus is the sensation of hearing a noise, often a high pitched ringing or whooshing sound, when there is no external cause for the sound. Tinnitus can last a lifetime and there is no cure for the condition. The best thing you can do is to protect your hearing in the first place to avoid developing the often-frustrating condition. You can read more about tinnitus in a previous blog post that also covers coping strategies for the condition.

Should music festivals turn it down?

With it being possible for permanent hearing damage to be caused so quickly at a music festival could it be said that festival organisers are playing the music too loud?

Nic explains that this is a tricky topic: ‘It’s hard to say whether the music is too loud. It does needs to be loud enough to fill the space, which can be very large, and to ensure that people have a good experience.’

‘Of course, this needs to be balanced to minimise the risk to those people attending, but there are no regulations on the volume of music, outside of licensing restrictions. And whilst festival organisers have to ensure that their employees; the backstage staff, security teams, bar staff and so on have hearing protection if needed, they don’t need to do the same for attendees.’

If you notice that the staff at your music event are wearing hearing protection then it’s highly likely that the music is going to be loud enough to cause damage to your hearing. Event organisers are legally obliged to protect the health and wellbeing of their staff but attendees need to make protecting their own hearing their top priority.

It’s possible that some festival attendees might think that they are protecting their hearing by standing away from the speakers or front of the stage. However, this might not necessarily be the case.

As Nic explains: ‘Obviously the further you stand away from the speakers, the lower the volume, but how far back you need to go is going to depend on how loud the sound being pumped out is. In smaller venues, especially, there might not be a safe space. I’m sure we’ve all been to gigs where the sound hits you as you go through the door. If you need to raise your voice or shout to speak to the person next to you – it’s too loud.’

The musical experience

So, with the wealth of evidence and personal anecdotes surrounding hearing health at music events, why would someone still choose to not wear earplugs or ear protection?

Some music fans might argue that wearing ear protection dampens the musical experience. And this could be true if you’re wearing the wrong type of ear plugs.

Nic says: ‘Some ear plugs do muffle the music – they are great if you’re doing some DIY but music can sound distorted. However, special ear plugs are available with filters which maintain the quality of the music, but just reduce the volume. They are surprisingly affordable, too – musician’s ear plugs with these filters are available from the British Tinnitus Association from £12, which is a small price to pay when you consider that hearing damage is permanent.’

Protect your hearing

If you are heading to a music festival this summer then make sure you are prepared.

Nic’s top tips for enjoying a music festival whilst looking after your hearing are:

  • ‘Go and have fun, but protect your hearing.
  • If you have children, protect their hearing too with ear defenders, not plugs.
  • Take breaks if you can every hour or so,
  • and keep hydrated too as your ears need fluids to stay healthy, just like the rest of you.
  • And as someone who was at a festival last weekend in the sunshine – wear sunscreen!’

You can find out more about tinnitus and hearing conditions at the British Tinnitus Association website and their sister site Plugem