It's not just you — shows and movies can be really loud. Carrying earplugs in your purse or pocket might sound like the kind of thing a cranky old person might do, but if you want to be able to complain about things like theatre noise when you're ancient, it's best to protect your hearing now.
Photo by Kristina D. C. Koeppner.
The louder a sound is, the more you should limit your exposure. You can listen to sound under 70dB for as long as you like, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association; 70dB is roughly the level of a loud group conversation. But the safe limit for an eight-hour work day is 85dB and for a two-hour movie, a (constant) 91dB.
Movies, especially action movies, can reach that range, although the occasional 100dB explosion isn't going to damage your hearing if the rest of the movie is quieter. Concerts vary, but plenty of them are at a volume that can cause hearing damage.
But the exact loudness doesn't really matter if you know you're uncomfortable with the sound around you. You are well within your rights to bring earplugs to any concert, movie, or event you like, and you probably won't be the only one.
My husband considers himself sensitive to noise, and complained once when we were in line for a concert that he had left his earplugs at home. So I just asked for some at the box office, and they happily sold us a pair for a dollar. This is a thing people do. You're not the only one. It's fine.
You can get the disposable kind for cheap at Bunnings or Officeworks, or take our senior video producer Joel Kahn's recommendation for noise-cancelling earplugs. Take good care of your ears and you'll be able to gripe about the volume at movie theatres well into your old age.