Fall activities and noise exposure

Written by Dianna Randolph, AuD, CCC-A. Posted in Health and Beauty

Fall is my favorite time of year. The weather is cooler, the leaves are changing colors, and there are some activities that I enjoy that only occur in the fall, like football games. With some fall activities, there is a possible risk of excessive noise exposure. This article will discuss some the more popular fall activities that may expose you to damaging noise without you even realizing it. Some of these activities are football games (including the marching band), hunting, and yard work.

Before we discuss the loudness of these activities, we need to discuss how loud is loud. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health says that levels of 85 decibels for an eight-hour time period can cause hearing loss. For every 3-decibel (dB) increase in sound level, the recommended time of exposure is cut in half. That means that for a stadium averaging 88dB, 4 hours of exposure can cause permanent hearing loss. Hearing loss is not the only thing that is caused by excessive noise. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also a result of excessive noise exposure.

COVID has interrupted many of our fall activities this year. Many sporting events, whether high school or professional, are not what they used to be. Crowds are being limited, and spectators are being asked to social distance. This will actually cut down on the amount of noise that is usually heard at a football game. Usually, football games can be very noisy, and the risk of noise exposure is something to be aware of. But, the risk of noise exposure is dependent on a few things—how big the crowd is and whether or not people brought their own noisemakers (e.g., airhorns or cowbells).

Obviously, the bigger the crowd, the louder the noise. This is more of an issue with college and NFL games. The world record for the loudest crowd noise for an NFL game goes to the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on September 29, 2014 against the New England Patriots. The crowd noise reached 142.2dB at the end of the first quarter. This noise level is equivalent to that of an aircraft carrier deck or a jet engine taking off at 25 meters away. College stadiums are also very loud. The top five college football teams with the loudest stadium crowd noise are The LSU Tigers, The Ohio State Buckeyes, The Florida Gators, The Oregon Ducks, and Penn State. It may be a good idea to take a pair of earplugs with you the next time you are going to a football game.

Noisemakers like air horns and cowbells are commonly heard at any football game. The average air horn can reach 129dB. If you are someone who likes to bring your airhorn, not only are you exposing yourself to possible hearing loss, but also the people around you. Cowbells are another popular sound at a football game. A cowbell can produce noise up to a surprising 110dB! Again, if you are the person with the cowbell or are near the person with the cowbell, you are at risk for hearing damage. This is something to take into consideration when attending any football game.

Marching bands are a wonderful highlight to a game, whether it is a high school or college game. Some people go to games just to see the marching bands. The loudness of the band will depend on the number of the participants. The larger the band, the louder the sound. According to a Duke University experiment, the sound levels of two marching bands were recorded. One was the Duke University Marching Band with 85 members and the other was the Riverside High School Marching Band from Durham NC with 61 members. Measurements were taken during rehearsals inside and outside. Results showed that both bands had decibel readings above 90dB while playing indoors and outdoors with the drumline.

With this in mind, there are many types of hearing protection specifically designed for musicians that can be used by band members and the band director. Please contact our office to discuss these options with an audiologist.

Hunting is another popular fall activity that can easily cause hearing loss and/or tinnitus if hearing protection is not used. A study by the University of Wisconsin found that men age 48-92 who hunted regularly were more likely to experience high-frequency hearing loss, a risk that increased 7% for every 5 years a man had been hunting (Starkey.com). The study goes on to state that with 83% of the participants, 38% of the target shooters and 95% of the hunters did not wear hearing protection while shooting in the past year. One shotgun blast is loud enough to cause instant damage with a loudness of 140-190dB.

Many hunters I’ve treated have reported to me that they do not like wearing hearing protection because they cannot hear their surroundings or the sound of an animal nearby. There are many different types of hearing protection that will allow you to hear but then will protect your hearing when the gun is fired. It only takes one gun blast to cause instant and permanent damage. I recently had a patient that came into the office with tinnitus and hearing loss after a gun blast without the use of hearing protection. He suffered some permanent high-pitch hearing loss and constant tinnitus even after a week. His hearing will probably never return, and he may have some longstanding tinnitus.

Finally, some lawn equipment used in the fall can be excessively loud. A lawnmower is about 90dB, a leaf blower is 99dB, an edger is 86dB, and a trimmer can get up to 96dB. All of these are deemed excessively loud according to OSHA, and hearing protection should be worn when using them.

Many different types of hearing protection are designed for your specific needs. There is not one type of protection that fits all. There are custom and disposable, filtered or unfiltered, some designed for music and some for shooting, and others to just block as much noise as possible.

It is always a good idea to get an annual hearing test if you are frequently exposed to excessive noise. With annual testing, we can see if the noise level you are exposed to is causing damage to your auditory system. Sometimes the damage isn’t seen during the hearing test but is recognized due to the development of tinnitus, and sometimes damage occurs so gradually that it isn’t noticed by the patient until it is too late.

At Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic, our audiologists can provide counseling on the correct type of hearing protection for you, discuss any hearing loss and/or tinnitus you may have, and give you treatment options, if available. If you would like to speak to one of our audiologists or schedule an appointment for a hearing test, please call one of our offices to do so.

Dianna Randolph, AuD, CCC-A, is a Doctor of Audiology with Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic, located at 1125 Hospital Dr., Suite 50 in Toledo (419-383-4012) and 1601 Brigham Dr., Suite 160 in Perrysburg (419-873-4327).