If you plan to be anywhere near downtown Austin this week, chances are your ears won't escape the music of SXSW. While tens of thousands are expected to attend the more than 2,000 performances scheduled, Seton doctors involved in event research say few will take the proper steps to protect their ears from these potentially deafening melodies.
Dr. John Bedolla is studying the effects of loud music on hearing. Bedolla is one of 12 Seton physicians that make up the Seton Event Medicine Institute, the first of its kind research institute, dedicated to improving safety at concerts, festivals and sports gatherings.
"We're just a group of doctors who really love what we're doing," Bedolla said. "We do it on our own time and our own dime because it's interesting and we want to help."
Doctors gather data at events and publish information to help improve safety at mass gatherings.
According to Bedolla, music lovers need to be especially careful because there are no laws that limit decibel exposure and hearing damage isn't immediately noticeable. In fact, he says there is a considerable lapse in time from when a person's hearing is injured to when they are able to notice the damage.
"When you ask an older person what one of the biggest challenges of getting old is, they almost always say it's not being able to hear," Bedolla said. "Your social interaction diminishes when you are aren't able interact with people, so it absolutely affects a person's quality of life."
Ears can be exposed to about 80 decibels of sound for up to eight hours a day, 100 decibels for up to two hours or 120 decibels for up to one hour before hearing damage occurs.
To break down decibels into everyday sounds, Dr. Bedolla uses the following examples:
• 60 decibels - Human conversation
• 90 decibels - Power drill
• 100 decibels - Driving 50 mph with windows open
• 110 decibels - Car horn
• 120 decibels - Jack hammer
• 130 decibels - Rock concert or a jet engine damaging for more than a couple of minutes)
• 140 decibels - Gunshot or firecracker
Dr. Bedola recommends downloading a decibel meter phone application to measure unsafe sound levels. He also suggests using ear plugs or even more advanced hearing protection available from audiology companies or sporting goods stores.
"What we like to do is focus on the audience and focus on how to make each event a safer and more enjoyable experience for the audience," he said.
Seton doctors researching events are not just studying effects on hearing. In addition to sound, the group also finds ways to reduce heat illness, how to anticipate treating race car drivers and motorcycle racers based on their collision or the way they fall. Dr. Christopher Ziebell, executive director of the Seton Event Medicine Institute, says there's hardly any data available on event medicine, other than what Seton publishes, because other researchers almost always keep the information proprietary.
"It comes down to being prepared and we want to share that information," Ziebell said. "Knowing what I need to do to prepare for an event with 250,000 people and how that's different from an event with 40,000 people."
Seton doctors have published several articles on event safety, and unlike others who are in the event medicine business, they're sharing their lessons for free.
"The Seton mission is to serve people and to help people," Ziebell said. I see this as a really neat opportunity to do work that's intellectually satisfying, in an area that's very under researched, in order to help serve the public."
Local news stations have recently highlighted the ongoing efforts and research of the Seton Events Medicine Institute. The following links (external) on KXAN and FOX7 feature Drs. Bedolla and Ziebell. Seton doctors plan to participate in several upcoming events including the MotoGP in April, the X-Games and Republic of Texas Rally in June.