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      How loud music damages hearing

      Loud music can damage your ears before you know it, causing permanent hearing loss and tinnitus – ringing or buzzing in your ears. Make sure you know the risk, so you can look after your ears.

      Inside the cochlea (our hearing organ that sits deep inside our ears), there are thousands of sound-sensing cells called hair cells. These tiny cells are essential for hearing: they pick up sound waves and turn them into electrical signals that are sent to the brain and interpreted as sound.

      Experts agree that hair cells can start to become damaged by noise at 85dB and above. That’s a problem when you consider that music at clubs and concerts is often around 110dB, and some headphones play music that’s just as loud when the volume is turned right up.

      When you’re exposed to too much loud noise, the hair cells become overstimulated. Once this happens, they become fatigued and stop responding to sound. This can result in temporary hearing loss that you may recognise as dulled hearing – it can last from a few minutes to a few days. At first, after a break from loud noise, the hair cells recover. But if you continue listening to music that’s too loud, over time the hair cells may lose their ability to recover and die. The hearing loss becomes noticeable – and it’s permanent.

      Research has shown that when hair cells are damaged, neurons (nerve cells in the brain) start searching for electrical signals that aren’t being received from the ear and may become hyperactive. It’s been suggested that this hyperactivity makes the brain more aware of the electrical ‘noise’ from the neurons, which is heard as tinnitus. Again, this can be temporary, but with continued exposure to loud music, it’s likely that the tinnitus will become permanent.

      Find out how loud everyday sounds are

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      An easy way to remember how damage is done

      You can think of loud music affecting hair cells when you’re on a night out a bit like the way a fresh patch of grass is affected by someone trampling over it. Before the person walks on the grass, it stands upright and tall.

      Over the course of a night, someone tramples on this patch and some of the blades of grass remain flattened. Over a day or two, some of the blades of grass may pop back up, but if someone keeps trampling over the patch of grass, more damage will be done, and the damage will become permanent.

      See our tips for listening to music safely

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      Tinnitus Week: 4-10 Feb

      We’re raising awareness of how loud music can cause permanent tinnitus, and the simple ways you can protect your hearing. We’re also offering a free magazine supplement on life with tinnitus and the latest research.

      Find out more