The sound level meter read 122 decibels at the Tigers versus GWS match last weekend. As a fellow Tigers supporter, I can vouch for the fact that little would have kept the crowd quiet – perhaps even the knowledge that it only takes 20 seconds of exposure to sound at such levels to cause lasting damage to your hearing.
To put things in perspective, normal conversation is about 60 decibels, and sound can become damaging at 85 decibels. The average human pain threshold is 110 decibels – the level of some aircrafts at takeoff power at 200 ft, or live rock music.
The recipe for hearing damage looks a bit like this: 85+ decibel sound + exposure time + exposure frequency and whether or not you wear ear protection.
In other words, without proper protection, exposure to 85 decibels for more than 8 hours could lead to permanent hearing loss. And, every time the noise level increases by 3 decibels, the recommended exposure time is cut in half.
Everyone responds differently to noise.
For some people it only takes one game to start experiencing the effects of loud noise. Regular game attendees are at more at risk, because hearing damage adds up over time.
Most spectators will experience anything from temporary hearing loss to ringing in the ears. In some cases, the ringing doesn’t stop and the individual develops tinnitus.
Others can end up with hypersensitivity to noise, a condition called ‘hyperacusis’ that makes everything seem to be stuck at ear-splitting volume levels.
Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common form of hearing damage in Australia.
But loud noise can be hard to avoid, especially when crowd noise is almost encouraged at AFL matches in particular, with decibel specialists hired in the hopes of catching on record the loudest Australian crowd of all time. And I can’t deny it adds to the atmosphere of a game.
Protection methods aren’t costly.
But hearing damage can be prevented for as little as a couple of dollars. And protection needn’t take away from the excitement of the crowd. Ear protection earmuffs or more subtle foam earplugs will reduce noise levels by 20 to 30 decibels. Combine the two for extra defense. Or, invest in a pair of the custom plugs used by musicians to maintain the integrity of music while stopping damaging sound from reaching the eardrum.
Another essential part of hearing protection is watching for the following warning signs:
- You have difficulty talking or hearing others talk over the sound.
- The sound makes your ears hurt.
- Your ears ring after hearing the sound.
- Other sounds seem muffled after you move away from the source of loud sound.
If you identify a problem sound, take breaks away from the source. At the footy, you can head to the kiosk for some refreshments.
Are you heading to the Grand Final match this weekend? Will you be protecting your hearing? Sports lovers, I’d love to know if you think about your hearing when watching live sport.