You've heard of swimmer's ear and tennis elbow - how about ‘golfer's hearing'?. A new study from England published in BMJ last month (BMJ 2008;337:a2835) investigated the sound levels of various golf drivers, in response to a patient complaint of tinnitus and decreased hearing in one ear. The patient presented with an asymmetrical sensorineural hearing loss with a 4k Hz notch, consistent with noise induced hearing loss. The loss was on the right side, and the patient was a right handed golfer who had recently stopped using a particularly loud titanium club and had no other history of noise exposure.
After a full evaluation including MRI concluded that the patient's hearing loss was indeed due to noise exposure, the investigators looked at the peak sound levels emitted by various golf clubs, both stainless steel and titanium, and concluded that the titanium drivers produced sound levels sufficient to produce hearing loss. This was supported by anecdotal reports from the patient and others using titanium clubs, comparing the sound of these clubs hitting the ball to the sound of a gunshot. The peer reviewed article includes data on all the clubs tested and their peak emitted sound levels, featuring a cheeky figure using golf tees and golf balls as the bars in the graph. Given the popularity of golf in many countries around the world, and the fact that noise induced hearing loss is on the rise, this is sure to be a landmark study, and the first of many more to come.