Can Movies Damage Your Hearing?

Today is May the 4th – affectionately known as Star Wars Day (May the Fourth/Force be with you…get it?). The original Star Wars revolutionized films with its amazing special effects, including sound, for which it received a Special Achievement Academy Award. But there is a downside to effects-laden movies — they can be hazardous to viewers’ hearing.

Movies can expose you to dangerous decibel levels

Sound is measured in decibels (dB). The threshold beyond which hearing damage may occur is 85 dB — for reference, this is the equivalent of bustling city traffic. In general, the higher the decibels, the less time it takes for hearing damage to occur. The resulting noise-induced hearing loss can be temporary (e.g., decreased ability to hear after a loud concert that fades over time), long-term, or even permanent.

Various researchers, concerned about the level of decibels to which moviegoers are exposed, have used sound meters to measure just how loud some films can get. The below is a compilation of some of their startling results:

  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Reached 93 dB
  • Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers: Reached 95 dB
  • The Magnificent Seven (remake): Reached 97.2 dB
  • Frozen: Reached 98 dB
  • Storks: Reached 99.3 dB
  • Lone Survivor: Reached 101 dB
  • Deepwater Horizon: Reached 104.9 dB
  • Transformers: Reached 130 dB

It should be noted that there was some variation between movie theaters as well as the films themselves. Some theaters showing the films dialed down the sound to keep it at more reasonable levels. Conversely, others cranked them up to (literally) deafening levels. When choosing between theaters, we’d advise sticking to locations that don’t try to blast you out of your seat.

Children are at greatest risk of noise-induced hearing loss from films

The younger and more sensitive the ears, the greater the risk of damage from exposure to very loud noise, including high-volume soundtracks and explosive special effects. Hearing care professionals have expressed concern over children attending movies because their ears are still developing, and either a single exposure to extremely loud sound effects or multiple exposures to loud films over time could be detrimental. Many recommend that young moviegoers — babies and toddlers particularly — wear earplugs at the theater in order to avoid permanent hearing loss.

When it comes to hearing loss, knowledge is key

While noise-induced hearing loss can often be treated with hearing aids, the better solution is to do whatever you can to avoid acquiring it in the first place. Toward that end, we encourage you to learn more about hearing loss and how to prevent damage from noise and other causes.