Fall is an exciting time for football fans, as we put on our jerseys, check our fantasy teams, and cheer on our favorite players. With so much excitement, it can to be easy to overlook one important fact: football games are noisy and have the potential to damage your hearing.
Whether you are attending a high school game, or going to see the pros, it’s key to make sure you are taking the right steps to protect your hearing. Read on to learn more about the long-term effects of stadium noise and how you and your family members can protect your ears while enjoying America’s favorite sport.
How Loud is Too Loud?
Noise is measured in units known as decibels. Sounds as subtle as a refrigerator hum sit at about 40 decibels, while louder sounds such as fireworks, can reach 145 decibels.
Hearing damage can occur after exposure to noise 85 decibels or higher. This means that you need to use caution when you are in an environment where the noise exceeds this level, even if it doesn’t seem dangerously loud to you. The average NFL game tends to rest at around 90 decibels, but they can—and do—get much louder.
The length of exposure and decibel level both play a role in the damage that occurs. For instance, the loud blast of an air horn reaches about 129 decibels, and it only take a moment for it to cause permanent damage. On the other hand, if the decibel level is rests at 85, it typically takes 15 minutes of exposure to impact your hearing. If you are at a game for three and a half hours where the decibel level ranging from 90 to 130 decibels, it increases your chances of hearing damage much more.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss and Tinnitus
There are different hearing conditions that can occur after exposure to loud noise, the most common being noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus.
Noise-induced hearing loss (or NIHL) occurs when the hair cells in the inner ear are damaged by loud sounds. Once these hair cells are damaged, it is difficult for the body to repair them. Sometimes the hair cells can be repaired by nutrients released by chemicals in the ear. This can result in restored hearing, but this is not always the case.
Often, noise induced hearing loss occurs over time, which is why some people don’t notice their hearing loss right away. A person with noise-induced hearing loss may perceive sounds as stifled or distorted, and they will have a difficult time understanding speech. They may not necessarily miss sounds, but they would have a hard time making sense of them.
Tinnitus can be described as a buzzing, clicking, or whooshing sound, but it is most commonly referred to as a ringing in the ears. You may be familiar with this sensation when you leave a noisy environment like a football stadium. Sometimes this condition subsides within a few minutes or hours; however, people with persistent tinnitus may experience it constantly. In either scenario, the presence of tinnitus is an indication that you have been exposed to dangerous levels of noise.
Once permanent damage is done, there is no known cure for noise-induced hearing loss; however, hearing aids are effective in almost all cases. In fact, technology has evolved to a point where hearing aids can even treat tinnitus symptoms. However, the best practice is to take preventative measures against hearing damage, especially if you are going to a noisy event like a football game.
The Loudest Stadiums
It’s no surprise that professional football games tend to generate excessive noise. With loud music, loudspeakers, and screaming fans, the decibel levels of stadiums can quickly skyrocket. Also, many stadiums have aluminum seating, and sometimes have overhanging structures. These don’t absorb any sound, and actually reflect it back onto the field.
Some fans take great pride in being the loudest, and compete to see who can make the most stadium noise during games. In 2014, Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs, broke the world record for stadium noise with a whopping 142.2 decibel level—that’s louder than a jet taking off! The Seattle Seahawks fans are known for their loud stadium noise, and CenturyLink Field held the previous record with a decibel level of 137.6.
After breaking the world record, Andy Reid, Head Coach of the Chiefs said, “I never thought I’d be fired up about decibel levels, but I’m fired up for them. My ears are still ringing. I mean it was loud-loud down there; incredibly loud."
Here are some of the other stadiums that are known for being noisy. See if your team is on the list!
- The Mercedes-Benz Superdome, home of the New Orleans Saints
- The Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colt’s
- Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers
- Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers
- AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys
- Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots
- Invesco Field, home of the Denver Broncos
The Clemson Tigers are known for having very noisy fans, and the decibel level of their stadium has reached near record-breaking heights.
What You Can Do
Wearing hearing protection is often the best solution for protecting your ears from excessive noise. Hearing protection comes in different forms, but earplugs are an affordable and effective option. The best part? They’re small and portable, so you can easily throw them in a bag or sweatshirt pocket.
Remember, one size does not fit all. If you are bringing your children or grandchildren to a game, make sure you have hearing protection made specifically for them. Standard earplugs are often too large for their ear canals, and earmuffs will leave gaps that let loud sounds through. Earmuffs made especially for babies and children are comfortable for their size, and effectively reduce their exposure to harmful decibel levels.
While there’s not much you can do about the fans around you, be mindful if you are bringing megaphones or other noisemakers to the game. If possible, choose seats away from major noise sources such as a speaker or a pep band.
It’s important to remember that hearing loss can happen anywhere, not just the stadium! Sports bars tend to be another place that get too noisy, especially during big games. If you are watching it at home with surround sound, or on your smartphone with earbuds, make sure the volume is turned down to a safe level (usually 60% of the devices capacity).
So how can you determine if the noise level of your environment is dangerous? First of all, if other people have to yell over the noise source for you to hear them, it’s probably too loud. There are also a number of decibel apps you can download to your smart phone that can give you an estimated reading of the decibel level of your environment.
If you are concerned about the impact of noise exposure on your hearing, the best thing you can do is to visit your hearing healthcare provider. This professional will be able to test your hearing, recommend solutions, and find the best hearing devices for you, if necessary.
Don’t wait until the season is over! Find a provider today.