Is Nightclub Noise Killing Your Hearing?

It's as common at local night clubs as the low lights and the $12 drink.

The music that's so loud it makes the floor vibrate, you could feel it in your chest and it continues to ring in your ears at the end of the night.

But for some, the effects of that music don't stop there.

"If there is ambient noise I can barely hear. I have to turn my head," said Miff Laracy.

Laracy has irreversible hearing damage due to constant loud music.

He began to notice it more than 20 years ago when he started playing guitar in night clubs full-time.

"I made a choice. I knew this would be loud and I said, 'When I get old, I won't be able to hear that well,'" said Laracy.

Laracy made a choice, just like you do every time you walk into a loud club without hearing protection.

The 10News I-Team wanted you to know exactly what you are choosing.

The I-Team teamed up with local audiologist Blanche Blackington to see just how loud local clubs really are.

A hidden meter was placed in Blackington's purse, with a microphone on the outside.

With the meter, Blackington was able to take sound measurements at five downtown hotspots.

"Anything over 85 is considered dangerous," said Blackington.

She tested peak decibels and found levels up to 155 -- the level of a fire engine roaring in your ear.

Blackington also measured average decibels, or how loud it was over a period of time.

The readings came back between 118 and 133. That is like having a jet engine or a helicopter taking off right next to you.

"Realistically, you shouldn't be exposed to that more then 3 or 4 minutes without expecting damage," said Blackington.

But can just one night in that ear-piercing environment really have a life-long effect on your hearing?

10News sent five club-goers out with Blackington and tested their hearing before they left and then again after 3 hours out on the town.

"If I was there every night, it is something I would not be comfortable with," said tester Jeff Melton.

The 10News club-goers did not come back with any major hearing loss after just one night.

But Blackington is quick to point out that if they were to be exposed at those levels more than once a month, or more than 6 hours a day, they would see permanent damage.

And what about those who are at these clubs every night, all night -- the bartenders, bouncers and dancers?

"It's quite feasible people are suffering from hearing loss," said Wende Carleson of California's Occupational Safety Hazard Administration (Cal/OSHA).

Cal/OSHA sets guidelines for noise exposure in the workplace.

At 85 decibels -- the level of a car alarm -- an employer must provide employees with training, testing and optional hearing protection.

At 90 decibels -- the level of a drill -- employers must find ways to minimize exposure, like turning down the volume or rotating employees.

Carleson doesn't doubt 10News' findings that local clubs are pumping out well above 85 decibels and doing very little to protect employees.

But the clubs need to be regularly tested to prove it, something most club owners aren't volunteering to do.

"They could certainly be in violation but nobody knows about it because they aren't recording it to Cal/OSHA and not taking the measures to sample," said Carleson.

Cal/OSHA has not received any complaints from employees, which is one reason why they don't do more random sampling of nightclubs.

"It's always the employer's responsibility. There aren't enough of us to go around, unfortunately," said Carleson.

The problem with hearing loss is we won't discover it until years after the damage has been done. At that point, no matter how loud it is you might continue to feel the music but will never hear the music the same way again.

Because of this investigations, San Diego City Council member Tony Young has taken up the task of getting an ordinance passed that would make it mandatory for signage and hearing protection to be placed in every club in the city.

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