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Post-concert hearing loss is an ear defence mechanism, says new research

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We have all experienced it. You go to a concert and you lose your hearing for hours after. Whilst we often hear that this is a sign of ear damage, new research from the University of New South Wales in Australia has argued that it is actually your ears protecting themselves.

Scientists have found in their studies that short-term deafness after experiencing loud noises may be your ears simply coping. The report suggests that ‘reversible hearing loss’ occurs automatically when the ear cochlea releases the ATP hormone when noise levels rise, binding to a receptor, and therefore reducing our sensitivity to hearing for a short period of time. This essentially is an adaptation mechanism by the cochlea so that it can protect itself from loud noises in the future.

Professor Gary Housley said: “This explains why we lose our hearing for hours or days after we have been exposed to a rock concert, for example.  The adaptation mechanism has been switched on.”

In studies using lab mice, it was found that mice which did not have the receptor did not lose any hearing, and therefore this defence measure may be a genetic issue. Such individuals may then suffer hearing problems when they are older and may need hearing aids.

However scientists were quick to suggest that this theory does not apply for listening to music on headphones. Co-author Professor Allen Ryan added: “Because our hearing sensitivity adapts, we can withstand loud noise, but we can't sense the absolute intensity of the sound and if we exceed the safe sound upper limit, we will damage our hearing – despite this protective adaptation mechanism we have discovered. This is clearly the case for personal music devices.”

Scientists suggest that, like sun exposure, loud noises have a long-term effect and so we need to take care of our hearing over time.

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