Lollapalooza: Don’t say you weren’t warned!

Hearing Health Center’s Jillian Kaempfe recorded the sound levels of Lollapalooza. Read about her experience and the long term effects of Lollapalooza from Hearing Health Center Founder and President, Dr. Ronna Fisher.

Teenagers at summer music festival having good time

The Sounds of Lollapalooza

Written by Jillian Kaempfe, HHC Executive Assistant

How was this year’s Lollapalooza? How can you go to that, year after year? Isn’t everyone drunk and crazy? It’s too crowded! It’s so expensive! The bathrooms are gross! How can you walk that much? Isn’t it loud?

I hear all of those things, and more, every time that I tell people I’m going to Lollapalooza. This past weekend was my 4th year in a row going to the festival, and my 5th year overall.  The last item on that list is obviously not a major concern to most people, but as I have learned, might be the #1 thing that people should have on their minds. More on that later. Here are my answers to the inquisitions I face every year:

1. Lollapalooza was AWESOME! (never expect me to change my answer. It will always be awesome.)

2. It’s easy. You go for a weekend in August, and then you have a full year to recuperate.

3. Yes, there are people that are drunk and crazy; sometimes myself included (don’t tell my parents). However, the great people watching stories I gain at Lollapalooza sustain me for another year of any small talk I need to pull out at a moment’s notice.

4. I agree, there are a lot of people. But have you seen how big Grant Park is?

5. Save your money, it’s expensive. Or buy stock in Budweiser.

6. Yep- sometimes the bathrooms are gross. Ask a Lolla vet (yours truly) where the good bathrooms are, they exist!

7. Do my feet still hurt today? Maybe. However, I tracked the miles on my phone, and over 4 days at the festival, I walked nearly 31 miles between all the stages. It really helps you earn the delicious Chow Town food and booze you consume!

8. It gets loud, but not too bad…

That last answer, “it gets loud, but not too bad…”, is probably the flakiest answer I can give you. Even though I’ve worked in the hearing industry for nearly seven years, I still tend not to think much about my hearing. My lack of enthusiasm in protecting my ears is of some concern given that I love music– in my earbuds during my daily commute or exercising, in crowded bars, and, you guessed it- at crazy rock concerts and festivals like Lollapalooza. To be fair, I’m also not particularly careful about protecting my skin from the sun, but that’s an issue for another blog.

So, this weekend my boss tasked me with downloading a sound meter app on my phone to see how loud things were getting in Grant Park. The app I used (dB Meter for iPhone) gave me a peak (max) as well as an average number of decibels output during the performances where I used it. I used the sound meter at the following concerts, which yielded these results:

Concert Peak dB Average dB
Arcade Fire 99 96
Chance the Rapper 90 89
Maggie Rogers 92 87
Rag’n’ Bone Man 88 87


What do these numbers mean, anyway?

Sound is measured in decibels (dB).  Zero decibels (0dB) is almost silence and is the softest sound the human ear hears.  The greater the dB, the louder the sound. As a rule of thumb, the louder the dB, the less time you can let your ears be exposed.

How long can you listen to certain sounds for?

30dB – a whisper:  No limit

60dB – normal conversation, background music:   No limit

80dB – alarm clock, garbage disposal:   8 hours

85dB – city traffic, snow blower:   4 hours

90dB – lawn mower, motorcycle:   2 hours

95dB –   subway train, food processor:   1 hour

100dB – jet takeoff, motorcycle:   ½ hour

105dB – sporting event:   15 minutes

110dB – blaring car horn:   7.5 minutes

115dB – ambulance siren:   3.75 minutes

120dB – chainsaw, air raid siren:   1.87 minutes – LEVEL OF PHYSICAL PAIN

“It gets loud, but not too bad…” right?

No, I was wrong. I was at Lollapalooza for four days, and I listened to about 7-8 hours of music per day. If you look at the above dB chart, a person should technically only listen to sounds that are between 90-100dB for between 0.5-2 hours at a time before they can really damage their hearing, and all of the concerts that I sampled fell right into this range. My ears were in the danger zone for several hours!

When looking at these numbers, it should also be noted that I don’t stand at the front of the crowd for any performances. For instance, during Chance the Rapper, I was all the way at the back of the field when he was performing. In the back, there are far fewer screaming crowds, blaring speakers, and sounds from the fireworks show. The ear popping 90dB I reported for this concert was on the softer side compared to what fans in the front of the crowd experienced!

It’s scary to think the amount of damage I’ve probably done to my hearing over 5 years at Lollapalooza, in addition to all the other concerts I go to! I’ve been told time and time again by our audiologists that I should invest in some ear plugs- maybe next year I’ll listen!!


Long-term Effects of Lollapalooza

Written by Dr. Ronna Fisher, HHC Founder and President

Beautiful teens at summer festival

400,000 people enjoyed the sounds of music at Lollapalooza this year.  Over 100 artists and bands performed for four consecutive days, flooding Grant Park with every type of music.

Despite the different genres, they all had one thing in common.

They were loud.  Very loud.

Ringing in the ears and muffled hearing are common after leaving concerts, sporting events, or anywhere where the sound is so loud that it is difficult to hear what someone is saying.  Typically, the ringing goes away and hearing is better by the next morning.

But is everything okay and back to normal?

New research says not.  It will never be “normal” again.  Multiple studies of the brain, and the nerves that send sound for processing and encoding, show? Prove? that exposure to loud noise directly attack and destroys the sound carrying nerve.  The damage is permanent and irreversible.

If the brain cannot get the message, it cannot process, decipher, or understand speech. Conversation and communication becomes limited or impossible, especially if there is background noise.

The result?  Normal hearing ability (the noise may or may not directly affect hearing) on the standard hearing test.  Abnormal processing ability.

On average, the Lollapalooza attendee listened to non-stop music for 8 hours/day at noise levels far in excess of any allowable amount.

Nerves were destroyed.  Damage was done.  Some Lollapalooza goers will pay far more than the cost of admission for the rest of their lives.



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