A couple of weeks ago, the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) launched ‘Listen For Life‘, a campaign designed to encourage people working in hospitality venues to understand the risk of hearing damage that comes with exposure to loud music.
The initiative was introduced to the House of Commons by Labour MP Jeff Smith, the NTIA published a bunch of videos by famous talking heads telling you to get your hearing tested, and Specsavers Audiology was announced as the official programme partner, with the whole thing being supported by a big press release push. The NTIA have obviously put a lot of effort into Listen For Life, which undoubtedly has its heart in the right place, but without the sort of industry discount on ear tests and protection that the Musician’s Union provides, the campaign seems a little toothless to me.
This is a subject close to my heart, as I know first-hand how much tinnitus sucks. I joined my first band at 14 years old, and played live throughout the 1990s and 2000s, a time when there was very little, if any, awareness of or thought given to hearing damage caused by repeated exposure to high sound pressure levels. The net result of that for me has been a loss of hearing that makes it difficult to understand what people are saying in even slightlynoisy pubs and bars, and moderate to severe tinnitus.
I’ve been very fortunate, as my tinnitus takes the form of constant white noise or static which is quite easy to drown out with one of those ‘falling rain’ audio apps, and it hasn’t impacted my ability to sleep. But tinnitus comes in all flavours, and I personally know people who experience constant whines, bell chimes, and screeches. It can be utterly debilitating and wreck a sufferer’s mental health and quality of life. In short, it is to be avoided at all costs and future you will thank you for taking steps to protect yourself.
The Listen For Life page on the NTIA website has some good information about dangerous sound levels and such, but in a nutshell, if you leave your place of work and your ears are ringing, feel congested, or your hearing seems muffled, you are already experiencing sound levels that could damage your ears. Don’t be fooled into thinking this can only be caused by live music or a thumping club system, prolonged exposure to moderately loud background music, and even the constant crowd noise of a high volume bar could be enough to damage your hearing,
If you find yourself in this situation, you need to do two things – get some hearing protection, and have your hearing tested. Hearing protection is easy, just search for ‘musician’s earplugs’ on Amazon, and find a set that has good reviews and fits your budget (you should be able to find some for about £15). Musician’s earplugs are different to the old school orange foam ones you might have seen before – they are designed to attenuate sound rather than block it out completely, which means you can still interact with guests and hear what is going on around you. The clear silicone ones are almost invisible, too.
As for the hearing test, you could do as Listen For Life suggests and book a test with Specsavers Audiology, but this will obviously cost money. If you are experiencing any sort of tinnitus or hearing issues, I would suggest your GP as the first port of call, as they will likely refer you to an audiologist on the NHS. The downside to this approach being you might have to wait a while for an appointment, but in truth if you are diagnosed with hearing damage, the advice is likely to be ‘protect your hearing from further damage’ which you are already doing with your musician’s earplugs, so the wait might not matter.
In either case, take the advice of an old man and don’t ignore the issue. If you are already experiencing hearing problems, or suspect that your job is exposing you to dangerous noise levels, get some plugs and save yourself a world of hurt in the future.