Noise at pro sports games can cause long-term hearing loss

Spectators at pro sports games like the Super Bowl need to protect their ears while enjoying the action, Canadian experts say.

Noise at an NHL playoff game equivalent to sitting next to a chainsaw for 3 hours

Noisy stadiums can hurt

The National

7 years ago
Loud sporting events may be fun for fans but there can be serious hearing consequences later in life 2:33

Spectators at pro sports games like the Super Bowl need to protect their ears while enjoying the action, Canadian experts say.

More than one million adults across the country report having a hearing-related disability, according to Statistics Canada. In the U.S., it’s estimated one in five teens have some degree of hearing loss.

When the home team scores during a NHL playoff game, the noise in the stands can be as loud as a plane taking off. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

"Each time your ears have been ringing, that is evidence of hearing loss. There's no recovery mechanism in place for the death of those inner ear cells," said Dr. Tim Rindlisbacher, director of sports health at Cleveland Clinic in Toronto, where he also works with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts and Mississauga SteeIheads of the Ontario Hockey League.

Rindlisbacher suggests that season tickets holders over a long period of time could be at considerable risk of noise-induced hearing loss from noisemakers, blaring music and cheering, especially if they also listen to loud music regularly or are exposed to noise at work.

"Hearing protection would be a really smart idea," Rindlisbacher said.

Sound intensities are often measured in decibels (dB), where a 10 decibel increase in sound is equivalent to a 10-fold increase in energy experienced by the ear.

Simple foam ear buds are fairly effective, Rindlisbacher said. Costlier noise-cancelling ear buds can completely eliminate some noise.

The Seattle Seahawks, who defeated the Denver Broncos in Sunday's Super Bowl, hold the record for noisiest stadium in the NFL.

An official from Guinness World Records recorded the crowd noise at a Seahawks game in the fall at 137.6 decibels.

Common decibel levels

  • Conversational speech: 60-90 dB.
  • Hair dryer, vacuums, lawnmowers: 80-90 dB.
  • Girls screaming at a rock concert: Can be over 100 dB.

Anything above 100 dB is very loud and sustained noise over 85 dB should be avoided.

Source: Prof. Margaret Cheesman, University of Western Ontario

Prof. Bill Hodgetts of the department of speech pathology and audiology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton published a study in 2006 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, titled Can Hockey Playoffs Harm Your Hearing? to raise awareness about noise when people are enjoying themselves at a game.

The noise of an entire NHL playoff game was equivalent to sitting next to a chainsaw for three hours, said Hodgetts, who is also with the the university's Institute for Reconstructive Sciences in Medicine. When the home team scored, temporarily the noise was like a plane taking off.

"Be proud in your team, be proud in your stadium, but don't be silly about the exposure you're setting yourself up for,” said Hodgetts, who also recommends ear plugs for fans.

With files from CBC's Kim Brunhuber