It’s getting warm out, which means one thing for movie lovers: summer blockbuster season. Movies like new “Top Gun: Maverick” are bringing droves of viewers to the theaters.
On top of the thrilling images across the screen, sound is a highlight of the movie theater experience, from the iconic sounds of the studio intros, to the clashing of lightsabers, to the scores that let you know trouble is on the way, like the famous “Jaws” theme. But are those sounds also a warning for your ears?
Dr. Nicole Laffan, an audiologist and speech pathologist at Northeastern University, told host Jeremy Siegel on Morning Edition that movies can do big damage to your ears.
“So when you think about going to a movie, the decibel level can be between about 75 and 105 decibels,” Laffan said.
“Movie theaters are trying to sell tickets,” she continued. “They're trying to create a fun environment for individuals to be entertained. And their thought is that the public likes it loud and wants it louder. But studies showed the majority of individuals don't want it that much louder.”
Laffan works with people who have hurt their ears, and says that movies can do a lot more damage to people’s hearing than they realize. That lower decibel range is similar to two things we are all familiar with: shouting, like that viral argument about the Wicked Witch of the West, and traffic. But when you get up around 105 decibels — the higher end of movie theater decibels — Laffan says it's akin to putting your ear near the sound of a loud hairdryer or a jet ski.
The good thing, Laffan says, is movies aren't always that loud. The bad news, though, is blockbusters are getting longer — like “Jurassic World: Dominion,” coming out this weekend, which clocks in at two and a half hours.
But viewers have the power to protect their hearing, Laffan says. They can limit the amount of time they spend in a theater, or they can wear hearing protection. Audiologists even make custom ones that don't reduce the quality of sound.
“They [the hearing protection] have different filters in them, where it's filtering the sound level without impacting one's ability to still communicate with the people that they're with, as well as to enjoy the movie theater or the music that they're listening to,” Laffan said.
Laffan and other experts at Northeastern also have a free program to help people dealing with hearing loss. So if you're headed to see “Top Gun” or another blockbuster this summer, maybe consider making it just one of a few, or consider wearing something over your ears to prevent you from entering that decibel danger zone.