Dangerous Decibels? Are Movies Too Loud?

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Film reels lean against a window on opening day of the 28th Telluride Film Festival August 28, 2001 in Telluride, CO.

    From the special effects and action to the surround sound, a trip to the theater is an adventure, but is it too much excitement for your ears?

    "It feels like you are almost in the movie. It's really fun," said Hollis Long, of West Hartford.
     
    With new technology, movies are being played at extreme volumes, some studies state. That has moviegoers of all ages grumbling about the noise.
     
    "I put my two fingers and I plug them in," said Lizzie Ververis.

    Grace Solivan, of Windsor Locks, has sometimes left a movie to complain to the desk and ask them to turn the movie down.
     
    So how loud is too loud? When does noise become unsafe?

    There are federal standards that limit noise exposure in the workplace but no standards are in place for entertainment venues, such as the cinema, Dr. Kourosh Parham, an ear nose and throat doctor at the University of Connecticut Health Center, said.

    "I've seen kids covering their ears because the noise is so loud and uncomfortable," Parham said. However, the evidence of whether this causes damage is unavailable, he said.

    Audiologist Nancy Bruno, from Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, helped NBC Connecticut do some testing and check out a few movies with a sound level meter.

    Experts like Bruno claim that anything louder than 85 decibels could damage your hearing, depending on how long you're exposed to the loud sounds.

    The previews at times peaked all the way up in the mid 90s. The movie sound levels varied. 

    "The Secret Life of Bees" kept a steady and safe sound level. So did "High School Musical 3," except for some parts, where the meter reached 90 decibels.
     
    The action flicks, however, were a bit tricky.
     
    "Eagle Eye" and "Body of Lies" averaged just below what's considered acceptable during parts of the films. However, during the action sequences, which make up a good part of the movie, the sound reached high levels.

    "They were frequently above 85 decibels, where is the level you start to be concerned and at times up to 92-96 decibels which is quite loud," Bruno said.

    To put things in perspective, the action sequences would be the equivalent of listening to a chainsaw for a couple of hours, according to studies posted online. Not exactly music to your ears.

    "They go to the movie -- and it’s an action movie -- and then spend two hours listening to their iPod, another few hours in some very noisy activity, then over time that adds up and puts them at greater risk for hearing loss," Bruno said.
     
    Bruno said she and other experts are seeing more children with some degree of noise-induced hearing loss.  
     
    She recommends following up a movie with quiet activities to give your ears a rest. If the movie is too loud, the only way the theater will know is if you ask them to turn it down.
     
    A theater manager tells us the volume level for each movie is encoded in the movie itself by the Hollywood studio. The film canister also contains playback instructions. The manager says sometimes those instructions tell the theater to increase the volume because the movie director wants his movie to be louder than normal.