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Temporary Hearing Loss and March Madness

basketball

College basketball fans across the US are gearing up for the excitement of March Madness, and the major league baseball season will soon be in full swing.

Being involved in sports is thought to be a very healthy activity. True, the cardiovascular workout will likely result in a healthy heart, weight loss, increased bone density, and many other benefits.

Unfortunately as spectator we don’t get those wonderful benefits (we’re the ones sitting on the bench) and there is also another downside - noise.

Excessive crowd noise --such as cheering, yelling, chanting, and loud drumming --can be toxic to your hearing.Ever left a sporting event with ringing in your ears? Or how about your hearing felt like it took a temporary “timeout” after the game?

That is right. Noise levels can be so excessive at sporting events you may have at one point felt one of these symptoms. So the question is how do we have fun at sports events and still protect our hearing?

Lack of Silence

ear protection required
If only this was at stadiums

If chess, fishing, and tennis are not your cup of tea, chances are you will be exposed to varying levels of stadium noise, which, in a long run, might not only harm your hearing but also cause headaches and other stress-related conditions.

Just how loud are your favorite sporting events? While coherent scientific data is difficult to come by, these disparate examples can give you some indication of the general rowdiness:

In 2007 scientists tested sound levels in Michigan Stadium during halftime of University of Michigan’s game against University of Minnesota. Their results showed that the student section is about as loud as a chain saw.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Raymond James Stadium features a pirate ship that fires a deafening cannon each time the home team scores a touchdown. And Minnesota Vikings fans at the Metrodome have come to accept jarring horn noises during games.

The N.F.L. doesn’t keep statistics on stadium noise, but in 2006 an Indianapolis schoolteacher, John Koke, took a decibel meter to the Pittsburgh Steelers game, and his findings were reported in The Indianapolis Star.

The music between plays was 94 decibels, he reported, almost as loud as a lawn mower. When Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stood at the line of scrimmage, the fans' roar reached 102 decibels - about as loud as a jackhammer. But the sound level peaked when Colts quarterback Peyton Manning scored an 80-yard touchdown: 108 decibels, almost as loud as the revving of a motorcycle engine.

Measurements at the Colorado Rockies Stadium has shown exposure has a time-weighted average of 94 dBA – which equals to roughly 17 days of work exposure at 85 dBA (the minimum level of sound allowed before the feds regulate).

But the noise disturbance at sports events is not just a U.S. phenomenon. The fans, it seems, are even louder on the other side of the big pond. In 2007 a study measuring noise levels at British soccer games made some worrying discoveries: depending on which teams were playing – and whose fans were cheering -- stadium noise registered at between 115 and 130 decibels, levels that are equivalent to sandblasting and jet engine rev-ups.

Give me a Q-U-I-E-T

Just why is it important to keep sporting events noise at a comfortable – for your ears—level? Simple: chronic exposure to hazardous levels of environmental noise, such as the loud cheering, yelling and chanting at sports events, can lead to hearing loss.

And it is not just theory. An estimated 30 million Americans are, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), regularly exposed to dangerous noise levels. That is an increase of 10 million from just a few years ago, and those numbers include many young people who, due to environmental noise exposure, experience diminished hearing as early as in their teens and 20s.

So what exactly is a dangerous noise level? Hearing health specialists say that sounds louder than 85 decibels are potentially hazardous. This means that a prolonged exposure to any sound louder than a normal conversation or the humming of a refrigerator can be damaging to your hearing.

Can you imagine the magnitude of the damage your ears could sustain from all the ruckus of the sports events?

Year-Round Madness

Aside from passing and enforcing local noise ordinances, not much can be done to silence loud sports fans.

But that is not stopping acoustics experts from trying to find a solution. Noting that people find it difficult to speak when they hear a delayed echo of their own voices, Dutch human-factors engineers suggested that a “delayed auditory feedback” would have a similar effect in a group of people.

By broadcasting an artificially delayed version of a loud chant, it is possible, the engineers argued, to disrupt follow-up chants.

However, the method is not yet proven to be foolproof, which means that the sounds of March Madness will probably continue to resonate loudly throughout America’s basketball courts this season and beyond.

Go Defense!

foam earplugs

Don’t coaches always say winning teams play good defense? Well it is no different for you as a spectator. Play good defense by wearing ear protection and you will come out a winner.

By quickly placing small foam earplugs in your ears, you will protect your delicate hearing mechanisms and still be able to cheer, laugh and boo if the ref calls it wrong is bad. Ear protection devices do not cut you off from the game; they simply take the edge off.

So if you left the stadium with ringing your ears or asking your buddies “what?”, you should know you may have caused some damage. The symptoms will more than likely go away, but over time these add up and may cause permanent damage.

So cheer on your favorite team but don’t forget your earplugs.

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