Standing outside the gates of Ultra Music Festival, an audiologist and her colleague are staring at their sound level meters. The devices track the decibel level of the atmosphere, giving us some unsettling clues as to how safe the environment is for your ears.
After an extended buildup, the beat finally drops. As the fans go crazy, the bass starts to pump. Even a few hundred feet from the stage, casual conversation is strained.
Cindy Simon, one of the audiologists, looks up at all the obstacles between her and the noise. "Even with all of that, we're up to 93, 94 [decibels]!" she says. "If it stayed at 94 for one hour, you're hurting your ears."
Hurting them permanently. Simon explains that listening to loud music isn't like working out a muscle, where the more you lift, the stronger you get. With your ears, every bit of damage is cumulative. Hearing loss from noise exposure comes from all the damage you've done over time.
Simon's practice in South Miami helps treat and prevent hearing loss. Many of her clients are former DJs and people who work in the clubs on South Beach. "I'm seeing a lot of people, much younger than you would think," she says. "Most of them are around 42 to 45, up to about 52. And that hearing loss is not from the aging process."
HEARING LOSS AWARENESS
Michael Lefkowitz went to Ultra every day of the festival's first weekend, spending about seven to eight hours a day hopping from show to show. He spent the beginning of each day handing out information about how to protect your ears. He was hoping to bring ear plugs to hand out, but was prevented from doing so because of liability.
It's not exactly the behavior you might expect from a high school junior from Gulliver Prep in Miami, a city known for its loud party culture.
But Michael was born with profound hearing loss.
"Luckily enough, I was able to receive a cochlear implant, so I can hear. But, because I am aware that hearing is such a gift, I feel like nobody should run the risk of losing that gift," he said.
Inside Ultra, Michael was taking sound level readings too. The highest level he measured from inside the gates was an astounding 115 decibels. "[That's] about the equivalent of standing next to a chainsaw," he said.
At that rate, says Simon, unprotected ears can only take the noise for thirty seconds before experiencing damage.
Michael was also carrying a handheld device called a dosimeter. It measures noise exposure for an eight-hour window within a 24-hour period. He kept the device was running from the moment he arrived at the festival. The level measured by the dosimeter? At least 32 times what hear experts consider safe -- that's as high as the scale goes.
Midday Saturday, crunk music legend Lil' Jon was spotted in the back parking lot of Ultra. When asked how he protects his ears from the loud music he has built his career on, he simply said, "I just don't put it as high. Or I don't put it so high for so long."
His answer is right in line with what experts say are two of the pillars of hearing damage prevention.
There are three tried and true methods to help protect your ears:
Turn the volume down, wear some hearing protection, like earplugs, or distance yourself from the sound -- in other words, step away from the speakers.
This article used comments from members of the Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have agreed to share their opinions with The Miami Herald and WLRN. Become a news source for WLRN by going to WLRN.org/Insight.