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Here's Why Your Ears Ring After A Concert

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

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

Via giphy.com

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.

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 youtube.com

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 youtube.com

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

How can you protect yourself?

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Earplugs, earplugs, earplugs! Concertgoers may be culturally resistant to them, as this Pitchfork article points out, but you should seriously reconsider passing them up as lame. Chronic tinnitus can be debilitating and require audio masking or therapy to manage it. (The American Tinnitus Association has a short audio sampling of what it can sound like.)

If you're serious about sound and don't want to hinder your live-music experience, companies like Etymotic and Sensaphonics can create custom earplugs for a flat rate and at a variety of filters. Tap a local audiologist for more details.

And if you forget yours, you can finagle some by wadding up napkin or tissue scraps to gently plug your ears. It may not be elegant, but future you says to suck it up.

Science Writer

Contact Kasia Galazka at kasia.galazka@buzzfeed.com.

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