March Madness… Is it “mad” for our Hearing?
March madness is officially upon us. Bars are full of screaming fans rooting for their alma mater or their workplace brackets. College students crowd into stadiums where music blasts and clever chants roar. At Fidelity Hearing, March Madness has gotten us thinking about how noise and sporting events go hand-in-hand, and how this can affect the hearing health of both fans and players. It is estimated that 26 million Americans between the ages of 20-69 suffer from preventable hearing loss due to excess noise exposure. We’ve compiled this simple guide to help you understand how loud is dangerous, which events are loudest and what you can do to protect your hearing, while still joining in on the “madness”.
How Loud is Too Loud?
Noise levels are measured in units of sound pressure called decibels. A soft whisper is about 30 decibels (or dBA) and an airplane take-off is about 140dBA. There are no official guidelines that specifically mandate how much noise a person should be exposed to during their leisure times. However, using the guidelines written by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is a good place to start. NIOSH outlines safe occupational noise exposure limits for workplaces. It claims that 85dBA – which is about how loud city traffic sounds while driving inside your car – is the limit of exposure for an 8-hour workday. As the decibels increase by increments of 3, the safe exposure time lessens by half. For example, at 88dBA a person can only be exposed for 4 hours. At 91dBA, 2 hours, and so on and so forth. To put that into perspective, about 95dBA (less than 1 hour daily limit) is about the noise level of driving down the freeway in a convertible.
Although NIOSH guidelines outline occupational limits, for a 40-hour workweek over an entire career, they can still be used to help determine excess exposure in leisure activities as well. Damaging noise exposure is cumulative over a lifetime and hearing loss from noise exposure is irreversible. It is also complex and includes other factors such as how much rest your ears get between noisy events and personal sensitivity.
Which Sports are Loudest?
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the loudest crowd roar at a sporting event came in at a staggering 142.2dBA by Kansas City Chief fans in 2014. There is no safe exposure time for levels this high. Luckily for our ears, this impressive bellow is not the norm. NFL football games average between 80-90dBA, periodically reaching levels well above 100. Basketball stadiums are designed to amplify sounds – with college stadiums reaching average peak levels of 120-130dBA – enough to cause some serious damage. Hockey is also quite loud, averaging 104dBA (sound of a chainsaw 9-feet away) and peaking at about 120dBA. Things quiet down slightly for baseball fans with noises averaging at about 90dBA and peaking at about 110dBA.
What Can I Do? (Without missing out on the fun)
Take breaks between exposures. The more rest your ears get between noisy events the less dangerous they become. This can mean limiting live events to a weekly or bi-weekly basis, or even taking a break from the madness to walk around the block during half-time. Because excess noise exposure is cumulative throughout your life, you can also limit other loud events in your day. If you work in a quiet environment and don’t blast your music on your way there, you have a higher noise allotment than someone who does not. There are also smartphone apps such as iTunes’ “Decibel 10th” which measures your environment in terms of decibels. Use an app like this to gain a better understanding of when you’re being exposed to excess noise, and for how long. The safest way to protect yourself is the old-fashioned way, by wearing ear protection to the game.
To schedule a consultation with Dr. David Dekriek, call (562) 926-6066.