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What to know about sporting events and dangerous noise levels

With Super Bowl LI right around the corner, more than 70,000 football fans are expected to pack NRG Stadium in Houston to root for their favorite team. While spirits are sure to be high, so will levels of crowd noise, such as cheering, yelling, chanting and loud drumming, all of which are harmful to our sense of hearing.

Hearing health specialists say that repeated exposure to ambient sounds louder than 85 decibels, like a normal conversation or the humming of a refrigerator, are potentially hazardous.

Noise levels at most sports events, on the other hand, are much higher than the recommended threshold. Depending on the acoustics of different stadiums, noise can vary between 94 decibels (as loud as a lawn mower) and 108 decibels (the revving of a motorcycle engine).

At some indoor arenas, stadium noise can register at a deafening 130 decibels, levels that are equivalent to sandblasting and jet engines.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health warns that without proper protection, exposure to 85 decibels for more than eight hours could lead to permanent hearing loss. Each time the noise level increases by three decibels, the recommended exposure time is cut in half.

That’s why it’s even more unsettling to hearing experts that cheering fans can push levels well into the hundreds. At these levels, it only takes between 1 and 15 minutes for the sound to damage your ears. The average football game lasts almost three hours.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association estimates that more than 30 million Americans are 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.

What happens inside the ear to cause this type of hearing loss? Repeated exposure to loud sounds causes wear and tear on the delicate structures of the inner ear. This wear and tear is much like constant walking on your lawn. If the grass is subjected to constant traffic, it soon looses its ability to spring back and becomes permanently damaged. The louder and more frequent the exposure to loud noise, the more damage is done to the delicate hair cell structures in the inner ear.

While there is no effective means to lower the noise level at sports events, acoustics experts are researching possible solutions. In the meantime, the good news is that noise-induced hearing loss is preventable. Make hearing health part of your lifestyle. Stay away from loud and prolonged noise when you can. When attending large (especially indoor) sporting or other events, be sure to use ear protection. There are a number of lightweight noise-canceling headphones, as well as earplugs on the market in all price ranges. Many larger sports stadiums even carry them in their gift shops. Do what you need to do now to protect your hearing in the future.

To learn more about this and other related topics, call Mount Nittany Physician Group Ear, Nose and Throat/Audiology at .466-6396, or visit mountnittany.org/physician-group.

Daniel Bigart is an audiologist with, Mount Nittany Physician Group.

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