This past Sunday evening (9/15/13) was a special evening in Seattle-town. The Seahawks overpowered their opponent while the fans succeeded in setting a record for the loudest stadium in the world.
The old record was set at the Ali Sami Yen Sport Complex Turk Telekom Arena in Turkey during a soccer match in 2011 – where the crowd set a record by recording a noise level of 130.2dB. Seattle fans, not to be outdone, upped the level to 130.9dB – a truly ear-splitting record.
But while the Seahawk fans, better known as the 12th Man, succeeded in making the most noise, many, if not all of them will suffer later on for their effort.
Noise induced hearing loss is at epidemic levels in this country with one out of five Americans over the age of 12 having a hearing loss severe enough to cause difficulty in their communication. This incredible number, 20%, is the result of our extremely noisy society.
Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by our ears being exposed to noises in excess of what our ears can handle. We might believe that our attendance at events where noise prevails (stadium events, rock concerts, noisy restaurants, etc.) won’t hurt us, but the fact is that noise induced hearing loss – one of the primary components of sensorineural hearing loss category – builds up over time and is not reversible.
Most people lose their hearing very slowly. So slowly in fact, that for most people, it takes almost a decade between when they begin to feel that they have a hearing loss until they decide that its time to have it checked out. During that time their ability to listen effectively is greatly reduced, potentially causing problems in their work, social life and personal relationships.
Our ears can handle noise in the area of 85dB for the length of our workday – roughly 8 hours per day. This is the noise level that you’d encounter standing on a street corner with moderate traffic around you. For every 3 dB increase in the noise level, we have to halve the time. So an 88dB noise level can be tolerated for approximately 4 hours per day. When we reach the 100 dB level, our tolerance falls to about 15 minutes before it begins to damage our hearing.
A number of years ago I did a quick study to see at what sound level the people on campus were pushing through their earbuds. I simply went up to anyone I saw with earbuds plugged into their ears and asked them to place one of the buds on a sound level meter. After 50 measurements I calculated the average and was astounded to find that the average sound level was over 102 dB – a level where the ears can tolerate only about 7 and a half minutes per day – and I didn’t know anyone to turn their players off after only two songs.
Back to the Seahawk fans and their quest for the loudest stadium in the world: they succeeded in capturing the record and I have no doubt that they will continue to press the record at every game this season. Unfortunately for them, their ears can only tolerate that level of sound for less than one one- hundredth of a second. The foam hearing protectors they were provided can reduce the sound level about 20dB – but that still leaves it at 110dB – and a tolerance time of less than 2 seconds.
While the Seahawks might be winning on the field, their fans are self-destructing in the stands. Nobody’s ears can withstand the noise level in that stadium without inflicting permanent damage. A season ticket should be accompanied by a thorough audiologic examination – if not at the end of the season, certainly by the beginning of the next. So congratulations Seahawks on your victory and my condolences to the faithful’s ability to hear and understand spoken language in the years to come.