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Top 10 summer activities that are dangerous to your hearing

Contributed by | Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

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Summer can bring a host of personal safety issues. We protect ourselves from the heat by seeking shade and staying hydrated. We protect ourselves from the sun by being vigilant about wearing sunscreen. We protect ourselves from mosquitoes by slathering on bug repellant. But as we go about our summer activities, how many of us think about protecting our hearing?

The fact is that many of the activities we enjoy once the mercury rises can endanger our hearing if we are not careful. With that in mind, here are 10 summer activities that can cause hearing damage. Some of them might surprise you.

close-up of the pitcher at a baseball game
Enjoy America's game but be wary
of noise exposure. 

Outdoor concerts

Summer is an ideal time to take in an outdoor concert or music festival. A Healthy Hearing survey revealed that most people are unlikely to think about protecting their hearing while enjoying the show. But here is why you should: unlike indoor concerts where the sound is absorbed, an outdoor venue causes the sound to disperse causing the band to turn the music up even louder. Concert sound levels are often in excess of 100 dB, well above the recommended 85 dB limit which is considered potentially harmful to hearing. In addition to choosing lawn seats and sitting away from speakers, pick up a pair of disposable earplugs before the concert.

Motorcycles and speedboats

Contrary to what you might think, it’s not the engine noise but the wind noise that can wreak havoc on your hearing. Riding a motorcycle at 65 miles per hour, especially if you don't wear a helmet, can produce wind noise levels in excess of 103 dB. To put it into perspective, that is louder than a chainsaw. And if the sound level exceeds 115 dB, just 15 minutes of exposure can result in permanent hearing damage. When boating, a simple pair of disposable earplugs will suffice. Depending on their state laws, motorcycle riders can best protect their hearing with a custom set of hear-through earplugs that will still enable them to hear road noise, sirens or honking cars.

Convertibles

Nothing beats putting the top down and taking the convertible out for a spin on the first sunny day of the season.  But the wind, the roaring of the engine and noise of other vehicles can put a damper on your drive when you find yourself experiencing tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears) or other symptoms of hearing damage. While it is not safe to wear earplugs while driving, you may be permitted to wear hear-through ear protection if your state's laws allow.  If not, try putting the windows up to reduce some of the noise.

Target shooting

With warm weather upon us, those who enjoy target shooting will once again be lured outdoors to partake in their favorite sport. It is estimated that as many as 40 million Americans participate in target shooting each year. Almost all firearms create noise that is above 140 dB, enough to cause immediate hearing damage, and even the smaller caliber firearms are above 120 dB.  Always wear earplugs when shooting, and if possible, double up and wear earmuffs as well.

Fireworks displays

From Memorial Day to Labor Day in the U.S., elaborate fireworks displays reign supreme. Most fireworks have sound upwards of 125 dB, which is loud enough to damage hearing.  In addition to wearing earplugs yourself, protect your child’s hearing too. The noise levels of fireworks displays make them unsafe for babies and toddlers, but if you must bring them to a display, cover their ears with inexpensive lightweight foam-filled ear cups or Baby Banz. Earplugs are best for older children.

Baseball games

Nothing says summertime like the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd. In the U.S., baseball is a time-honored tradition that, for many of us, epitomizes summer. In an effort to ramp up the excitement, stadiums these days are louder than ever. In addition to crowd noise, rows of speakers blasting rock music and fireworks celebrating home runs can make watching the game a deafening experience.  A University of Michigan study released in June 2015 found decibel levels of major league baseball games averaged 94 dB, but could reach as much as 114 dB. At 94 dB, anything more than 30 minutes of exposure puts you at risk of damaging your hearing. Wearing earplugs, and making sure your children’s ears are protected as well, can reduce the risk of hearing damage.

Parades

You might not think of a parade as being risky to hearing, but infants and toddlers are particularly vulnerable to the noise. Parades are a favorite summertime activity for families, but the shorter ear canals of the very young can make parade noise a real danger to children's hearing.  Protect your little ones from all of the marching bands, sirens, loud motorcycles and revving engines with simple foam-filled ear cups or Baby Banz. And, it wouldn’t hurt to protect your ears with a pair of earplugs too. 

Yard work

A nice-looking yard shouldn't lead to hearing loss later in life. Any noise measuring in excess of 85 dB has the potential to be harmful to hearing. Unfortunately, Most equipment used for yard work measures between 80 dB and 105 dB. Proper precautions can help you protect your hearing while maintaining your yard this summer. Electric equipment is quieter than gas-powered, and proper maintenance of equipment can reduce the noise level. No matter what, be sure to wear earplugs or earmuffs when operating lawn equipment such as hedge trimmers, leaf blowers or lawn mowers.

Car races

Though millions of dedicated racing enthusiasts can explain their differences, Formula One, NASCAR, Indy car and stock car races have one major commonality: they are dangerously loud. Most races average between 90 and 115 dB depending on the types of cars, acoustics of the track space and viewing location. Sound levels can reach as high as 130 dB, the human hearing threshold for pain. This noise level puts spectators at real risk for hearing damage and tinnitus. If you are heading to the track, bring your earplugs. They won’t detract from your experience but they will save your hearing down the road.

Air shows

Warm temperatures and clear blue skies will lure many of us outside this summer to celebrate the miracle of flight at air shows. The proximity to the action can be dangerous for your hearing and that of your children. Though the aerial stunts can be breathtaking, the noise of the jet engines quickly becomes ear-splitting when pilots venture close to the ground. Young children especially are vulnerable to hearing damage since shorter ear canals cause the sound pressure entering the ear to be greater. You would probably bring sunscreen, a hat and bottled water to an air show, so remember to bring ear protection for the entire family as well.

Get outside and take advantage of all that summer has to offer, but protect your hearing at the same time. If you are experiencing fullness in the ears, ringing or buzzing, be sure to see a hearing care professional right away.

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