Hearing Loss Coming to a Theatre near You     

It can be a scary experience to go to the movies.  But a visit to the cinema can also be unsettling for your ears.  The sound levels in action films have reached staggering heights.

According to the New York Times News Service the film Godzilla from 1998 reached 115 dB when Godzilla got strafed by jets.  When Godzilla found its murdered baby the sound level reaches an ear-shattering 118 dB.  The facts are reported in the magazine The Hearing Review.
An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer states that the sound level in the first 12 rows of a movie theatre were as high as 104 dB in the blockbuster film “Return of the Jedi”.

No definite standards have been set for noise levels during leisure activities such as visiting the cinema.  It is a fact that a sustained level of 85 dBA or more over an 8-hour period can damage a person’s hearing ability.  A person should not, for instance, be exposed to a sound level of 110 dBA for more than one minute and 29 seconds each day.

According to the New York Times News Service, the loudness trend may have started as far back as 1967 with the legendary film Bonnie and Clyde featuring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.

The sound level you experience in a movie theatre normally depends on where you are seated.  But in recent years the overall sound level has definitely increased.  Modern technology has made it possible to play back sound at extremely high levels with little or no distortion.

The film industry is aware of the problem, but they are not very interested in reducing the sound levels for competitive reasons.  One of Hollywood’s top producers once said: “I’m not going to make a shuttle rocket launch too low.  I’m going to make it so that you feel it in your seat and in your gut”.

However, recent studies, as reported in the magazine “The Hearing Review”, show that the noise level in cinemas is lower than in, for instance, video arcades, health clubs and at sporting events.

So look out, if Godzilla 2 is coming to a theatre near you.

Courtesy of Deborah Touchette, Au.D., CCC-A, FAAA
Doctor of Audiology
Paradise Hearing & Balance Center
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