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Here's Why Your Ears Ring After A Concert

That hum is tinnitus, a condition Chris Martin,, and Pete Townshend have spoken out about. Protect future you!

Posted on April 11, 2015, at 12:01 p.m. ET

If you've ever been to a concert, you may have experienced a muffled ringing after you leave.


It's actually a temporary bout of tinnitus, or when you perceive sound that has no external source. Tinnitus can occur after sustained loudness.

But how loud is too loud? The standard tipping point is 85 decibels (dB), and prolonged exposure to noise at that level can lead to hearing loss, as outlined in the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

The average rock show emits about 100 to 120 dB.

To compare, a whisper is about 30 dB, and a siren can be 120 dB.

Mikdam / Getty Images
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Live music falls on the higher end of that gamut. The louder the sound, the higher the decibel level, but it's not like cranking a volume knob: Decibels are a logarithmic measure of sound intensity. Paring down the math, an increase of 10 dB is perceived as being twice as loud, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

That means a passing ambulance is about a trillion times more intense than the faintest sound you can hear at about 0 dB (though some people can hear even lower than that).

But you don't have to duck for cover any time you see a lawn mower: Here's a handy chart about how long you can hear everyday noises before they inflict any damage.

Loud noises have a big impact on your delicate ear mechanisms.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association / Via

A common cause of tinnitus is damage to tiny hair cells in your inner ear. First sound travels through to your cochlea, the pink snail-like object in the animation above from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Over time, your ears' microscopic cells become irreversibly damaged.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association / Via

The hair cells vibrate when they encounter sound waves and transmit those nerve signals to your brain.

But when those cells are destroyed, your brain doesn't get the messages it expects, so it creates phantom signals to compensate, according to Harvard Medical School. Basically, you hear sound that isn't really there.

A survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 50 million Americans experience some form of tinnitus, which has no cure.

Musicians are especially susceptible to prolonged noise exposure, and some celebrities have opened up about their experiences

Christopher Polk / Getty Images

That includes Coldplay's Chris Martin (above), the Who's Pete Townshend, Grimes, Barbra Streisand, and, to name a few.

How can you protect yourself?