Loud Movies & Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

We all love the movies and there is truly nothing like experiencing it in the theater. It’s the big screen, the cushy seats, and the surround sound. However, it’s important to be cautious when attending a movie. Have you ever left a movie with a ringing in your ears? If you’ve ever wondered what this is—its tinnitus, a side effect of being exposed to loud noise.

Noise Induced Hearing Loss

One of the most amazing things about cinema is how it brings together several senses at once. Not only are films a visual feast but the sounds help us feel part of the story. Sound is one of our most prominent senses, helping us hear quiet sounds that bring us peace, while our favorite song may release endorphins throughout the body. When we go to the movies, sound is just one of the senses which brings us to a place where we feel completely immersed in the experience. However, when sounds become too loud, they can reach levels where they damage our ears. When sound reaches past a safe listening threshold it can cause vibrations which can shatter the cells in our inner ear, responsible for sending sound information to our brain—leaving us with permanent noise induced hearing loss.

So How Loud is Too Loud?

Every movie theater is slightly different as there is no national standard as to how high for how long a movie can be. The average limit however is 85 dBA—which also happens to be the threshold for sound damage after eight hours of constant exposure. It’s as much the length of exposure as the level. As the decibels rise the time, we can withstand a sound without experiencing permanent damage decreases. Every three increases of sound cuts the exposure time in half. For instance, at 88 dBA, it only takes four hours, and by the time we’ve reached 95 dBA, damage can occur in under an hour. While a movie at an average decibel reading of 85 dBA for two to three hours won’t hurt you- there is no accounting for extending action scenes, where explosions and gunfire may carry on at a higher decibel level. For instance, if a movie had a 15-minute sequence which measured 105 dBA it could be loud enough to damage the hearing of everyone in the theater.

“The level of noise exposure that one experiences in a movie theater is relatively high and could actually cause hearing damage”, says Dr. Nicole Laffan, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Northeastern University. “What’s more, depending on the film, this damage can occur after just one movie.”

Its not just the movie either—“The trailers at the beginning seem to be much louder than they were in the past,” Laffan notes. 

How Loud Are the Movies?

There is data to support Laffan’s concerns.  The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reports that movie theater noise levels range from 74 to 104 decibels. As major motion pictures are tending to be longer – almost 3 hours for most Marvel movies for instance, the higher end of the movie theater decibel range could be unsafe for the ears of theater goers. 

More Common than You May Think

Commonly a condition which affects older adults, more and more younger people are experiencing hearing loss due to exposure to noise. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 17% of adults have hearing loss that is caused by noise alone. Children’s ears are even more susceptible to noise due to smaller and shorter ear canals. The CDC reports that 12.5% of children have noise-induced hearing damage, and movie theaters may be an issue. 

Protecting Your Hearing 

Next time you go to a movie, consider that the peril on screen is not the only danger. Come prepared to protect your hearing for the future. Unaddressed hearing loss can put a strain on relationships throughout life, affecting learning, work, mood, cognitive functioning and even ability to confidently navigate independently out and about. You can limit your exposure by bringing hearing protection which has the potential depending on the model to lower the decibel level anywhere from 15-33 dBA.

If you feel as if you have hearing loss, don’t hesitate to reach out and schedule a hearing test. Contact us today.