Official: loud rock music falls on truly deaf ears

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Science Correspondent

Scientists have confirmed what parents have known for years: that ear- blasting rock concerts and long nights at discos can turn you deaf.

New research suggests that thousands of young people could develop serious hearing problems much sooner than their predecessors, where deafness generally develops after the age of 60. It also suggests that noise from leisure pursuits has replaced workplace noise as the biggest risk to hearing. Yet there are no legal limits on the sound levels permissible at clubs or concerts - even if they would be illegal in a factory.

A study of 1,364 people aged between 14 and 40 in the city of Nancy, France, found that, of those who went to rock concerts once a month, 44 per cent showed symptoms of temporary hearing loss. This included ringing in the ears - tinnitus - and deadened hearing. The research, by a French hearing specialist, also showed that almost two-thirds of those who went to concerts more than twice a month had such symptoms.

In the UK, a wide-ranging study by the Medical Research Council in Nottingham indicates that young people who go regularly to clubs are three times more likely to complain of tinnitus. Dr Adrian Davis, who headed the study, will tell an international conference in June that about 30 per cent of young British adults experience significant exposure to high levels of noise and complain of problems conducting conversations against a background noise.

Sound levels at rock concerts and clubs often top 100 decibels, compared to the legal level permitted by the Health and Safety Executive, which is an average of 85dB over eight hours.

A number of rock musicians have suffered serious hearing loss, including Pete Townsend, the Who's guitarist, and the heavy metal band Metallica. Dr Davis said some bands and security staff at their concerts had resorted to ear-plugs.