Karaoke has become, in the last 50 years, a great pastime to share with friends. However, recently, Karaoke has been deemed a health hazard by two respected studies, one in Korea, and one in Hong Kong where the majority of Karaoke enthusiasts reside.
How Karaoke Began
In the 1960’s what started out as a TV show in America, as Sing Along with Mitch, eventually morphed into Karaoke as we know it today.
Karaoke is a patented machine that not only plays amped up music, but has lyrics scrolling on a screen with along with changing color, a moving symbol, or music video images, to guide the singer.
This is finished off with the set-up of a classy mic that makes the singer, regardless of talent, a star. Thus, a recorded popular song that has backup vocals and accompaniment makes the music, and sometimes the singer shine.
It sounds like a perfect way to spend a few hours singing. In fact, there have been studies that extol the benefits of listening to music and singing. Music advances physical, mental and emotional stimulation, so Karaoke would seem to be a perfect blend of social fun and physical benefits.
For the last 50 years, Karaoke has taken on a life of its own invading bars, and birthday parties. There are even Karaoke festivals and Karaoke contests, some Karaoke stars travel internationally.
A Bad Health Choice
However, recent findings in two separate studies reported in the British Medical Journal, the Journal of Voice, and the International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics; Karaoke creates health problems in several ways. Karaoke can damage your voice and damage your hearing leading to early deafness.
Karaoke singing is a talent all its own. Or in some cases, a total lack of talent. How many times, with a few too many beers or cocktails have you belted out the lyrics to a favorite song like “Don’t Stop Believin’”, crooning at full volume, caressing the microphone and dazzling or horrifying your friends and strangers.
For someone who craves attention or just enjoys the limelight and likes to have fun, it’s a subtle drug of delight and seems harmless, except for a sometimes punctured ego. What makes a great karaoke singer isn’t what necessarily makes a good singer.
Friends get together to do karaoke for companionship, cheers, boos, booze, and to experience that bubbly feeling of feeling great. Doing karaoke is the bottom line. It’s all about the stage presence and bravado, not necessarily singing talent. But that’s in part, where the problem lies.
The problem with that kind of singing is that belting out at top volume, trying to hit ridiculous high notes that are a strain to get to, can be dangerous. It can dramatically hurt your vocal chords. You can end up with a persistent hoarseness, or breathness, or voice change.
Sometimes, you can even lose your voice developing laryngitis for days. The worst scenario is vocal cord paralysis which can not only affect your ability to speak. Vocal cord paralysis can affect your ability to breathe.
Very often, karaoke singers have no formal training; they don’t warm up before singing. Add to that Karaoke singing is a style. It’s when the singer’s voice is amplified against accompanying background music.
The urge to dazzle the crowd and sing as loud as you can, is mesmerizing. The problems arise when karaoke singers, drink alcohol which dries out their vocal chords, and instead drink little or no water.
They also tend to be passionate and animated which leads to singing at a fevered pitch for long periods of time without any rest. Sometimes, singing can last for several hours, interspersed with shouting, hooting, and booing others rather than allowing those vocal chords to rest.
The researchers found something of hope. People who did have drinks, especially water, and rested sounded better than those who did not.
Researchers from the University of Hong Kong, have found that karaoke singers are more vulnerable to developing voice problems.
Oh the Noise
The other situation is the amped up sound. The noise and music levels can lead to hearing loss. Unfortunately, hearing loss is the third most common health problem in the U.S. Hearing loss is caused by damage to sensory hair cells in the inner ear. Once damage has occurred there is little chance of reversing the loss. It is preventable by avoiding loud noises.
The sound levels in a commonplace karaoke singing venue are literally deafening. According to the Center for Hearing and Communication, continued exposure to sound above 85 decibels for extended periods will cause hearing loss. Most Karaoke activities create sound that is higher than 95 decibels. This information was discovered when a team of Korean researchers measured average sound pressure levels and maximum sound pressure levels during random types of karaoke singing, varying from the softer ballads to hard rock. “Further statistical analysis of hearing threshold shift revealed significant hearing loss was found after about two hours of karaoke exposure.”
What to do?
Avoidance of Karaoke is probably the best way to go. However, it’s not always an option. Earplugs can minimize the intense sounds, there are earplugs that diminish, not completely block sound. Doing things like drinking plenty of water before you sing, warming up, and taking breaks can minimize any vocal issues. And if you are a hard core karaoke addict, you might want to invest in a few vocal lessons.
Who knew a simple sing along could become a medical hazard?