Objective: Several previous studies have attempted to estimate the risk of noise-induced hearing loss from loud leisure noise. Some of these studies may have overestimated the risk because they used noise estimates taken from the higher end of reported levels. The aim of the present study was to provide a realistic estimate of the number of young Australian adults who may be at risk of hearing damage and eventual hearing loss from leisure-noise exposure.
Design: Average noise levels at five high-noise leisure activities, (1) nightclubs; (2) pubs, bars, and registered clubs; (3) fitness classes; (4) live sporting events; (5) concerts and live music venues, were calculated using 108 measurements taken from a large database of leisure noise measurements. In addition, an online survey was administered to a convenience sample of 1000 young adults aged 18 to 35 years, who reported the time spent at these leisure activities and the frequency with which they undertook the activities. They also answered questions about tinnitus and their perceived risk of hearing damage. Although the survey data cannot be considered representative of the population of young Australian adults, it was weighted to this population in respect of age, gender, education, and location. The survey data and the average noise levels were used to estimate each individual's annual noise exposure, and in turn, estimate those at risk of hearing damage from leisure-noise exposure.
Results: For the majority of participants (n = 868), the accumulated leisure noise level was within the acceptable workplace limit. However, 132 participants or 14.1% (population weighted) were exposed to an annual noise dose greater than the acceptable workplace noise limit. By far, the main source of high-risk leisure noise was from nightclubs. Those with more leisure-noise exposure experienced more tinnitus and perceived themselves to be more at risk than those with lower noise exposures.
Conclusions: It is recommended that nightclub operators reduce noise levels, display warnings, and provide earplugs for patrons and employees. Health promoters should focus their attention on those young adults who are most at risk and provide them with targeted practical advice about reducing their leisure-noise exposure and avoiding hearing loss.