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Noise and indoor sports this winter

Contributed by | Monday, November 9th, 2015

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However you follow your favorite team -- television, the radio or in person -- there’s no denying sports are one of America’s favorite pastimes. According to a February 2014 report by Nielsen, the available hours of sports programing on television alone has increased by 232 percent in the last 10 years. Remarkably, Americans clocked a staggering 33 billion hours watching sports on television in 2013 alone.

Let’s face it – being a fan is a lot of fun. The feelings of teamwork and camaraderie we share with players and other aficionados leads to a lot of celebration after a good play or when the home team wins. But let’s talk about hearing health for a minute. How loud is too loud when it comes to rooting for the home team? The magic number is 85 – as in decibels (dB). You may not know it, but exposing your ears to noises louder than 85 dB for extended periods of time can actually cause permanent hearing loss.

indoor sports and hearing loss
Many people don't realize
how noisy indoor sports
environments can be! Make 
sure you protect your 
hearing! 

Basketball

According to the Bleacher Report, the loudest basketball arena in the NBA is The Oracle Arena, home to the Golden State Warriors. Others rounding out the top ten include the Rose Garden (Trail Blazers), the United Center (Chicago Bulls), EnergySolutions Arena (Utah Bobcats), Chesapeake Energy Arena (Oklahoma City Thunder), Pepsi Center (Denver Nuggets), TD Garden (Celtics), Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Indiana Pacers), Sleep Train Arena (Sacramento Kings) and Madison Square Garden (New York Knicks).

While that gives some a home court advantage, it should give you pause. Decibel (dB) levels at Oracle Arena reach dangerous noise levels of more than 120 dB. (Physical pain begins at 125 dB.) While you can turn down the volume when you’re watching television or listening to the radio, consider taking some hearing protection when you visit one of these stadiums in person.

Ice hockey

Not to be outdone, ice hockey arenas get fairly loud, too. According to a February 2013 article in the Industrial Safety and Hygiene News, noise levels reach 124 dB at ice hockey games. The results were obtained by evaluating two sporting arenas which hosted collegiate hockey and semi-professional hockey games. Fifty four personal noise dosimetry samples were taken over the course of seven home hockey games from 34 workers and 20 fans.

Although developers are constantly looking for better ways to control noise in indoor sports arenas, you probably shouldn’t wait for them to come up with a solution. The next time you score tickets to the big game, remember to take along some hearing protection, too.

Bowling

Ok, bowlers, you can relax. Noise levels at a bowling alley only average 82.9 dB, due to sound absorbent materials used in modern facilities. According to a 2015 report by the American Society of Planning Officials, bowling has become a popular family recreation. Bowling alleys are getting bigger each year and the National Bowling council estimates between 18 and 22 million people a year are bowlers.

But that doesn’t let you off the hook completely. If the facility you frequent is older and your ears ring after a night of league play, take notice. You might benefit from wearing some hearing protection in the future.

Noise-induced hearing loss

In case you’re wondering why we’re cautioning you about exposure to excessive noise, here are a few reasons why it’s so harmful to your hearing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say as many as 26 million adults aged 20-69 years have suffered permanent damage to their hearing from excessive exposure to noise. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) can lead to communication and learning difficulties, pain or ringing in the ears, distorted or muffled hearing and an inability to hear every day sounds, such as the doorbell, telephone, smoke alarm or emergency vehicle sirens.

Excessively loud noise -- whether it’s constant or a one-time exposure to a very loud sound or blast -- damages hair cells in the inner ear which are responsible for translating the noise our ears collect into electrical impulses for our brain to interpret as recognizable sound. Once these hair cells are damaged, they cannot be medically or surgically corrected.

How to protect your hearing

Since NIHL is the most preventable form of hearing loss, it isn’t necessary to stay home and watch the game on television. On the contrary. Go to the stadium and cheer your home team on with gusto – just be mindful of how loud the noise level may be and take precautions for protecting your hearing. Here are some options:

  • Move away from the noise when possible. In other words, don’t sit too close to the public address system or walk out into a quiet hallway for a few minutes if things get too loud.
  • Wear some foam ear plugs. You can purchase a container of these inexpensive ear protectors at your local drugstore. Not only are they small and lightweight, they also have noise reduction ratings up to 35 dB.
  • Invest in some noise cancelling earphones. They can be pricey, but they may be more comfortable than foam ear plugs, allowing you to enjoy the game without having to worry about how loud the crowd is getting. (just make sure to take them off before you head into the parking lot)
  • If you’re watching the game on television or listening to it on the radio with headphones, remember to keep the volume somewhere between one-half and two thirds maximum volume.

Of course, anytime you suspect your hearing has suffered because of exposure to a loud noise or excessively noisy environment, seek treatment from a hearing healthcare professional immediately. One of the best things about following your favorite sports team is the ability to enjoy the sounds of community – from the playing of the national anthem to the final buzzer and everything in between. Protecting your hearing from the roar of the crowd ensures you’ll be able to do that for years to come.

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