We all enjoy recreational activities of one kind or another, and sports events are among the most popular ways to get out of the house and enjoy the dizzying excitement of being part of a crowd! We root for the home team, or the team from our place of origin. We relish when they come out on top, and we feel their defeat when they fail to best the opposition. We always feel that we are, at least in some part, responsible for the outcome of every tournament.
Accordingly, we shout and cheer, reminding our team that we’re on their side as we encourage—even insist—that they perform to the best of their ability. We are carried away as our excited screams become louder and louder, joining our voices with our fellow fans in a fury of endorsement.
Many of us forget that, while we cheer along, the sound from our thousands of voices joined together reaches well into the “danger zone” of the decibel range. We may be encouraging our team to victory at the expense of our—and others’—ability to hear!
Sporting Events Reach Unsafe Noise Levels
The average decibel level at a sporting event hovers in the range of 80–90 dBA (decibels A-weighted). The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) warns that 8 hours of exposure to 85 dBA can lead to permanent hearing loss. This is why employers must provide hearing protection in noisy work environments. For every additional 3 dBA of noise, the safe period of exposure is cut in half. That means by 90 dBA, only about 2–3 hours of exposure can cause permanent hearing loss.
The average football game lasts 3 hours. And while 80–90 dBA is the average noise level at the game, levels often rise into the 110s and 120s, where only a minute or two can cause hearing loss. At some games, noise levels can become painful.
At a Seattle Seahawks game in 2013, fans broke the record for the loudest crowd noise in history, measuring 137.6 dBA. They even caused a mini-earthquake!
137.6 dBA is about the noise level that jet engines make during takeoff. Those who work on the tarmac at an airport wear serious hearing protection in order to tolerate that noise level, but many of the fans at that Seahawks game were not protected at all.
Genetic Differences and Hearing Loss
Individuals respond differently to high noise levels. While some people experience hearing loss immediately at a loud event, others may be more resilient. The Stanford Initiative to Cure Hearing Loss has noted that there is a genetic component to most every type of hearing loss there is, and noise-induced hearing loss is no different.
The problem is that it is impossible to know how much noise any person can stand until they have already suffered from hearing loss. Accordingly, hearing protection is critically important to prevent the noise at sporting events from damaging our hearing.
Types of Hearing Protection
There are several varieties of hearing protection that can protect us from the effects of loud noise.
Earmuffs surround the ears and include a headband that spans the top of the head. Earmuffs provide good protection, but are bulky and may not provide enough protection for those who wear glasses—as the temple-pieces of a pair of glasses can break the seal between the earmuffs and the head. They can be a good choice for children and those who need to put on and remove their ear protection quickly.
Disposable earplugs are a low-cost, single-use solution for the times we encounter excessive noise. It’s a good idea to carry a pair of earplugs with you at all times in case you encounter sound that requires protection. While they are typically effective at reducing sound up to 30 dBA, they can make things sound unnatural as they tend to attenuate high frequencies much more than low.
Reusable Over-the-Counter Earplugs
Reusable OTC earplugs can be purchased for $15–30 and used again and again. They’re a good choice for those who encounter loud sound somewhat frequently as a part of their routines, and they tend to provide a better sound quality than disposables.
Custom hearing protection is a good choice for those who need daily or near-daily protection. Molded specifically for the shape of your ear canal, they offer the most comfortable, best-sounding, and most effective protection of any earplug style. Attenuators are available for a variety of different activities, and your hearing care specialist can help you determine which ones are right for you.
If you are interested in custom hearing protection, or if you may have hearing loss requiring amplification from hearing aids, make an appointment for a hearing test today and take control of your hearing health!
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