Athletes and Hearing Loss

Athletes and Hearing Loss

In Uncategorized by Ed Kocher, ACA, BC-HIS

Ed Kocher, ACA, BC-HIS

It might come as a surprise that athletes are at greater risk for hearing loss. These folks are often at peak physical condition, and it is hard to imagine how physical fitness could be related to hearing loss. This relationship comes in at least two different forms. 

In the first case, those who engage in team sports often find themselves in excessively noisy environments. In the second case, those who are actively engaged in physical fitness activities have higher usage of loud volumes in earbuds or headphones. Let’s look at both of these ways that athletic activities can actually be related to hearing loss, as well as how to prevent that potential damage. 

Team Sports and Hearing Loss

Although there is nothing intrinsically noisy about athletic activity, the crowds that can assemble at events can be very loud, leading to repeated exposure to loud sound environments for players. The crowds at professional sporting events take pleasure in cheering on their teams, accumulating to a damaging decibel level within the stadium or arena. Although these contexts only affect an elite group of players, non-professional sports can lead to noise exposure, as well. 

College and high school sporting events similarly assemble a crowd of supportive fans who can create a loud din of vocal noise when they cheer on their teams. Outdoor events tend to be less of a risk, though they can be very loud when a huge crowd assembles. 

Indoor events that take place in closed, reverberant courts tend to be a high risk, even when a smaller crowd is involved. Take, for example, high school basketball games. With closed rooms, reverberant surfaces, and a crowd of excited fans, the sound in the room can cross that crucial threshold of 85 decibels of noise. When music and the voices of amplified announcers are added to the mix, the effect can be even greater. Not only are athletes subject to exposure to this sound during games, but the vast supporting staff of people coaching and providing services at the games are often subject to this noise, as well. 

Even working in concessions at a loud sporting event can expose you to noise levels that cross into dangerous territory. For these reasons, hearing protection is necessary for all involved. Custom-fitted earplugs can enable players to protect their hearing while also allowing them to communicate with other players in crucial moments. 

Fitness Activities and Hearing Loss

The gym might not be a place with a loud noise floor like an arena event, but many fitness participants like to use headphones and earbuds to help them through rigorous workouts. That playlist that inspires you to break your personal records on the treadmill may be crossing a noise threshold that makes it dangerous. 

One of the problems with noise in these contexts is that the sound coming through headphones is not isolated. In the background, the sound of a treadmill or other exercise machine, along with fans and music played in the gym, can lead to a cumulative noise effect. We have a tendency to turn up the volume on our devices when background noise competes with that sound, but the added effect can cross the noise threshold into dangerous territory. 

If you like to play music while working out, take stock of the maximum volume you are projecting. Devices that extend beyond roughly the 75 percent mark can be producing decibels of sound that put you at risk of permanent hearing damage. When added to the background sound, you might be risking your hearing in lasting ways. 

What can you do if you are a team or individual athlete who is exposed to excessive noise during your activity? When hearing protection is possible, be sure to use it. Even disposable foam earplugs can reduce the total decibel level of sound to a safe level. 

Furthermore, take a moment to consider the volume of your headphones or earbuds, as well as the duration of use. A few moments at top volume might not do damage, but even a few minutes at that level, particularly when combined with background noise, can cause serious hearing damage. 

If you are concerned about your hearing ability, the time is now to schedule a hearing test! Contact us today.