October 21, 2017

Concerts, Construction Workers and Airplanes

What do concerts, construction workers and airplanes have in common? Unless your name is Opetey always trying to make something from nothing, you will not see any meaningful connection between the three listed above. However, the key to all three lies in the high-levels of sound that each of them produces and the negative effect this could be having on your health.

The human auditory system, responsible for your ability to perceive sound is is a finely tuned machine. It converts physical vibrations caused by sound, into electrical signals for your brain to make sense of. Like any finely tuned machine, there are a thousand and one things waiting to go wrong. One of the weakest parts of this finely tuned machine is in a structure called the cochlea, located right behind your ear drum (aka Tympanic Membrane).

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Here you will find a well tightened membrane which behaves like the skin on a drum head. Just like how you beat different parts of a drum to make vibrations that give different sounds, vibrations at different parts of the cochlea produce different electrical signals for your brain to interpret. 

So, what does a well tightened drum-like membrane behind your eardrum have to do with concerts, construction workers and airplanes? Well, imagine the difference between beating a drum with open palms or pounding at it with heavy fists. That difference represents what sound at very high volumes can do to your hearing. The levels of sound produced by the speakers you find at open air events are easily comparable to those produced by airplanes and by heavy machinery on a construction site. You would have noticed that workers at the construction site and airport wear ear protectors, but when was the last time you saw someone at a concert who was concerned about how loud the speakers were.  

Isn’t it quite curious that as one group of people are required by law to wear ear protectors, another group will rather pay to expose themselves to the same levels of sound at a concert.  The short or long-term damage caused by prolonged exposure to loud sound; whether from speakers, construction machines or planes can lead to hearing loss. It can also lead to a constant ringing sound in your ears, a condition known as tinnitus. So, the next time you head off to a concert, consider how close you are to the speakers or carry some ear plugs, it could make all the difference to your future health.