Dr. Cynthia L. Ellison, Au.D
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We know that similar to concerts, attending sporting events means… lots of noise! For sports fans, making noise is a part of the entire experience and the adrenaline that makes these events fun. You and thousands of people may scream in support of your favorite team or yell about calls made during the game (or against the opposing team!). People may also engage in battles over which side of the stadium or arena can make more noise. This in addition to the music playing and the announcers projecting as they speak, creates a one loud environment. This kind of exposure to loud noises can lead to hearing loss so it is incredibly important to protect your hearing during these events!

How do we hear?

To understand how sporting events can impact your hearing, it is important to know how hearing works. Our ears consist of the outer, middle, and inner ear which work together to take in, amplify, and process sound. The outer ear (the most visible part of the ear) absorbs sound from the environment. This sound travels through the ear canal and strikes the eardrum causing it to vibrate and move the sound further into the ear. These soundwaves reach the cochlea (in the inner ear) and cause the fluid and hair cells to move. This translates the sound waves into electric impulses or signals that are sent to the brain to be interpreted. Not only is this how sound is registered, but it also how we are able to make meaning of that sound.

How can sporting events lead to hearing loss?

There are various factors that can contribute to hearing loss including medical conditions and family (genetic) history. Another cause of hearing loss is environmental exposure to loud noises. This can include things such as operating loud machinery, attending concerts, and of course, attending sporting events.

Loud noise can strain and damage many parts of your ears including the membranes, hair cells, and nerves that are all a part of the complex process of hearing. It can particularly be harmful to the thousands of hair cells that are in the cochlea. As explained previously, sound reaches the cochlea and causes these hair cells (and fluid) to move. If this sound is loud, then the hair cells and fluid will move more. Meaning, the louder the noise, the stronger the vibration. When we are exposed to loud noise, these hair cells bend. This is exactly why when we often leave a loud environment (concert, stadium), we do not hear as well. There may be ringing in our ears, sounds seem unclear or muffled, you cannot hear quiet sounds and may need your friends to repeat themselves etc. Typically, this lasts for a short period of time and our hearing returns as the hair cells are restored. These hair cells are similar to blades of grass that fold over and then stand up again.

Hair cells need time to rest and recover from this loud noise. But if they are consistently experiencing loud noises, meaning you attend games frequently, they can lose sensitivity and/or be permanently damaged. This is significant because we are born with all of the hair cells, we will ever have meaning they do not regenerate and if they lose sensitivity and are damaged, this impact is permanent. Hearing loss often happens gradually so you may not realize that your hearing is in fact declining.

How can you protect your ears?

There are useful ways that you can protect your ears during sporting games that will still allow you to participate in the noise making! There are several ear protecting options to choose from including:

  • Headphones
  • Earmuffs
  • Ear plugs

Stadiums typically sell ear plugs as well if you are unable or forget to go to your nearest drugstore! You may want to purchase a few for your friends and/or family members to use as well. Not only can you use these during games, but also at concerts, while listening to music etc. They reduce the noise so that it is less impactful on your ears.

We highly encourage you to invest in one of these options and protect your hearing health!