Protecting your hearing during football season

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Once again, we are deep into football season. While some of us like to cheer on our favorite teams from the cozy comfort of our family rooms, a plate of turkey in front of us and the big screen TV blazing, others prefer to enjoy the action live. But beware, because all of that excitement can come with pitfalls to your hearing health unless you take the proper precautions.

Football stadium with noisy fans
The excitement of a football game comes
with lots of loud noise.

Noise levels

It is an indisputable fact that all football stadiums, from high school all the way up to those that house NFL teams, are loud. And that loudness is by design. Loud equals fun, energy and excitement, pumping up the fans as well as the players. Seattle Seahawks’ fans have a reputation for being so loud they have earned a collective nickname: The Twelfth Man. They even set a Guinness World Record for loudest crowd noise: in December 2013, the sound in the stadium was measured at 137.6 decibels. In 2014, the crowd at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City broke the record to come in at 142.2 decibels.

These record breakers don't hold a monopoly on noise. The newly constructed U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, home to the Minnesota Vikings, boasts a high-tech transparent roof made of ethylene-tetraflouroethylene (ETFE) that traps sound, bouncing it back in to the stadium. The screaming excitement of the fans combined with loud music and thundering sound effects reflecting off of the enclosed space add up to dangerous noise levels that have been measured at 104 dB.

In the interest of generating excitement, fans are even encouraged to “Make some noise!” via video scoreboards at stadiums across the country. The downside to all of this excitement is that stadiums have become so loud these days that hearing can be damaged in as little as 15 minutes. “Ears are extremely sensitive devices — they’re designed for when you’re walking in the woods and you hear a twig break, signaling that the bear that ate your friend last week is close,” said William Martin, a professor of otolaryngology at Oregon Health and Science University tells the New York Times. In other words, ears are not designed for the punishing cacophony of a sports stadium in the year 2016. So considering that any noise over 85 dB can be damaging to hearing, fans attending games at this stadium or any other are advised to protect their hearing.

Stadiums have become so loud these days that hearing can be damaged in as little as 15 minutes.

Fortunately, hearing protection is affordable and easy to find. Simple foam earplugs are inexpensive and can be purchased at any drugstore, and most come with a Noise Reduction Rating. Earmuffs work well also, and can even be worn over foam earplugs for extra hearing protection.

It is also important to make sure children’s hearing is protected if they are accompanying you to the game. Children’s hearing is more susceptible to damage because they have shorter ear canals. “In small children, the rule is the smaller the ear, the louder sound grows in the ear, and the more dangerous it could be,” audiologist Jennifer Taylor tells WKRN news. For children especially, attending even one game in a very loud stadium can be enough to cause a temporary shift in the hearing threshold, muffled sounds and ringing in the ears (tinnitus). And repeated exposure can cause permanent hearing loss over time. An easy solution for kids attending football games is a set of earmuffs such as Baby Banz; they come in various sizes, styles and colors.

Cold/wet weather

January 10th, 1982 will go down in history for Cincinnati Bengals fans. That was the date of what became known as the Freezer Bowl, when the air temperature for the match-up between the Bengals and the Chargers was -9 degrees with a wind chill of -37 degrees. Although your next outing to a football game isn’t likely to get quite that cold, even normal winter temperatures mean you should think about protecting your ears and your hearing aids

First, remember moisture can be damaging to hearing aids. If you are determined to hang in there for your favorite team despite rain and sleet, make sure to protect your hearing aids. Hats, scarves and earmuffs will suffice to protect hearing aids from the cold and wet weather. Moisture can also build up as a result of extreme temperature changes, like going from the cold outdoors to the warm indoors, or as a result of sweat that builds up under hats or earmuffs.

If your hearing aids become wet at the game, remove the batteries when you get home and wipe them as well as the inside of the battery compartment with a clean, dry cloth. Put your hearing aids in a Dry-Aid kit when you get home, preferably overnight, to remove moisture.

Something else to remember during football season is that cold temperatures can reduce battery life. You might want to bring an extra set of hearing aid batteries to the game just in case, so you don’t miss any important calls.

Colds and ear infections

Even if you don’t wear hearing aids, just being out in the cold for the duration of a game can lead to problems with your ears and your hearing.

For example, season ticket holders who plan to attend multiple games might want to be aware of a condition called exostosis, the result of long periods of exposure to cold and wet weather. Exostosis is when abnormal bone outgrowth forms in the ear canal, blocking the ear canal and interfering with hearing.

Other problems that can occur from being outside too much in cold weather are colds and ear infections. It’s not an old wives’ tale; a new study shows that colds actually do occur more frequently with exposure to cold temperatures. Ear infections are often the result of fluid being trapped behind the ear due to a cold or other virus. In addition, ear infections happen more frequently in cold weather because exposure to cold temperatures reduces the circulation in the ear. So, if you have been feeling under the weather, it is probably best to skip the game and watch it from the comfort of your recliner with a bowl of chicken soup. Your ears will thank you.

Throughout the football season, most people are more focused on their favorite team winning games rather than being focused on their hearing. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement, but taking precautions with your hearing health will pay dividends in the long run and will enable you to hear the excitement for years to come. And remember, if you are experiencing ringing in the ears, pain or muffled sounds after attending a game, see a hearing health professional right away for an evaluation. 

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