Ear drums take a hammering

By Chloe Johnson

High decibels at some everyday activities could be deafening us.

94.8 dB - Britomart Country Club. Thursday 9pm. Photo / Doug Sherring
94.8 dB - Britomart Country Club. Thursday 9pm. Photo / Doug Sherring

Outings that are part of daily life could be putting our hearing at risk, and movie and gym buffs are particularly vulnerable.

The Herald on Sunday took a basic decibel reader to six different social venues, and found noise levels broke the 80dB health limit at three of them, and came dangerously close at the others.

The results come at a time when the National Foundation for the Deaf is working to raise awareness of the increasing rate of hearing loss. In a report, it predicted that by 2050 one in four New Zealanders will suffer from hearing loss, compared with one in six in 2005.

The foundation estimates that hearing loss is costing the country $2.83 billion, or 1.4 per cent of GDP. It says a significant amount of hearing loss, 37 per cent, is due to excessive noise exposure which is preventable.

In consultation with a noise control expert, we randomly selected a cafe, bar, cinema, play area, intersection and gym, and recorded the highest readings over 15 minutes.

The foundation's website says brief exposure to noise above 80dB can cause temporary hearing loss which becomes permanent with continued exposure. Noise levels above 115dB will cause damage and anything above 130dB will be painful.

Three of the social venues tested were in the danger zone - the Imax theatre at 98.6dB, the Britomart Country Club bar at 94.8dB and a Les Mills gym class at 87.3dB.

A busy intersection, Frasers Cafe in Mt Eden and Lollipops Playland in Henderson were just a whisker away from 80dB.

Event Cinema general manager Carmen Switzer said they had not received any noise complaints. "Customers who go to Imax are looking for a big experience. It is the best screen in the country and probably the best sound system."

She said noise levels changed for each movie as different guidelines were provided by the filmmakers.

Britomart Country Club manager David Holan said he was not aware of the potential dangers but he would inform staff about the noise levels.

"It is a hard one because people want to party so you have to keep the level high," Holan said.

Frasers Cafe owner Paul Fraser said the noise was out of his control because customers enjoyed talking and laughing.

A parent at Lollipops Playland in Henderson, Ali Kanwal, had to raise his voice to speak above the sound of children laughing and shouting, but called the atmosphere "pleasant".

"I don't call it noise. It's the sound of the kids playing and having fun. I enjoy it," said Kanwal, as his nearly 3-year-old daughter Zaynab Ali climbed over him and his nieces tugged at his shirt.

The other venues declined to comment or had no one available to comment.

Green MP Mojo Mathers, the first deaf MP to enter Parliament, said the recorded levels were concerning.

"Permanent damage depends on the length of exposure, but many of these levels pose significant risk of hearing damage," Mathers said.

She said the Government had an important role to play in ensuring safe noise levels in public spaces through education and regulation.

Louise Carroll, the foundation's chief executive officer, said a campaign was being planned to have action taken against the rising rate of hearing loss. It has already started installing Safe Sound Indicators in pre-school and primary classrooms.

- Herald on Sunday

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