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Just Hear Me Out

Heart-pounding beats and feet-tapping classics are integral parts of our lives and personally, I would be an absolute misery without my daily dose of music. It keeps us sane in some pretty trying times – the most boring of lectures or the daily commute. A night out on the town would hardly be worth stepping out the door for without it and even as we relate to the entire discography of Adele in a blubbering mess of tears, we love to jack up the volume. The truth is, we crave emotion, excitement and energy and it appears that we can achieve these by cranking up the tunes. But how do we hear them in the first place?

We’re able to hear noise when our ears relay the information from sound waves, which are introduced into the air by vibrating objects (such as guitar strings or vocal cords), to our brain. Our ears house exquisite structures that enable us to hear thousands of different pitches, from the low-frequency pounding of a bass drum, coming in at around 20-100 Hz, to the higher-frequency sound of a female singing voice, which can reach around 1.5 kHz. Our range of hearing can extend up to approximately 20 kHz.

While the frequency of sound is the number of times the air particles vibrate per second (i.e. 1 vibration/second = 1 Hz), the volume of sound that we hear is determined by the amplitude of the vibration of air particles. It has been suggested that we enjoy the ear-splitting end of the volume scale because a tiny organ (the biological, rather than keyboard kind) in the inner ear is linked to a part of the brain associated with our response to pleasure.

Unfortunately, this may all come at a pretty high price (and I don’t mean the 99p per song on iTunes). The window of painless pleasure is remarkably small, as stimulating this region of the ear takes volumes over 90 decibels, equivalent to the intensity of a food blender, a lawn mower or a person shouting. These aren’t pleasurable sounds, I admit, which is why we rarely voluntarily listen to them. But, exchange food blender for Foo Fighters, lawn mower for Lorde and have Ed Sheeran yell his sweet lyrics at me and I could happily listen for hours upon hours.

This sort of prolonged exposure causes damage to the specialised cells in our ears that are responsible for transforming vibrations in the air into the signals that are sent to the brain.

The sheer amount of music we listen to at these volumes means that our hearing is deteriorating at a more rapid rate than that of our parents’ generation. Noise-induced hearing loss is irreversible – once those ear cells are damaged, there’s no going back.

Imagine never getting the chance to become a Belieber. Okay, maybe that won’t persuade everyone. Still, grab some ear plugs and pop them in the next time you’re at a gig or club. You might not feel ‘cool’, but you’ll be the one laughing at those that didn’t in years to come – just be aware that they might not be able to hear you.

Image: Flickr// Tal Atlas

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