Ear Raid Seattle Seahawks fans break world records for decibel readings with their ear-busting roars at football games. But what is the cost of jet-engine noise levels to attendees’ hearing? Features
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Features  |   October 01, 2014
Ear Raid
Author Notes
  • Nancy Alarcon, MS, CCC-SLP, is director of clinical education at the University of Washington Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 11, Administration and Supervision. nalarcon@uw.edu
    Nancy Alarcon, MS, CCC-SLP, is director of clinical education at the University of Washington Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 11, Administration and Supervision. nalarcon@uw.edu×
Article Information
Hearing & Speech Perception / Acoustics / Features
Features   |   October 01, 2014
Ear Raid
The ASHA Leader, October 2014, Vol. 19, 50-53. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.19102014.50
The ASHA Leader, October 2014, Vol. 19, 50-53. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.19102014.50
Last October, I remember driving home after a hectic day in the clinic, trying to unwind, listening to the radio when an ad boomed, “Be loud!!!!”
Yes, here we were, early into the AFC West professional football schedule and the announcer was pumping up the Seahawks’ fan base—the “12th MAN.” My honest reaction was, “Do they have any idea what they’re asking for? This is gonna be a long ride for screaming fans who may suffer vocal abuse and noise-induced hearing loss….”
In fact, the ride was long and incredible! Last year we went from a young, underrated team to the hottest team in the AFC West to ultimately winning the Super Bowl!
Note that I say “we.” Many of us born-again fans excitedly jumped on the bandwagon and rode that wave to victory, assuming that in some small way we, the “12th MAN” fans, helped the ’Hawks to win.
In the midst of that ride, the 12th MAN broke two Guinness world records! We started off breaking the loudest stadium record at 136.6 decibels on Sept. 16 against the San Francisco 49ers during a Sunday Night Football showdown. Unfortunately for us, Kansas City Chiefs fans quickly countered within the month at Arrowhead Stadium, topping out at 137.5 decibels. Yet, 12th-MAN fans couldn’t be held back, and recaptured the record Dec. 2 against the New Orleans Saints, registering a decibel reading of 137.6.
But are these records something to be proud of? What is the cost to the fans of all ages … to stadium workers … to players and staff when exposed to the equivalent of jet-engine noise levels for extended periods of time? And, how does one dare bring up concerns about temporary threshold shift, noise-induced hearing loss and wearing ear protection in the midst of a screaming, frenzied community of fans where 12th MAN signs and colors adorn the front doors, flag poles, store fronts, and car windows or antennae across the city?
Loud and proud
The Seahawks are proud of having the loudest home field in the world. “CenturyLink Field has established itself as the loudest stadium in the NFL,” states official Seahawks information. “Its 2.36 false starts per game is the highest average in the National Football League since 2005. On game day, the 12th MAN produces as much as 112 decibels, nearly as much noise as a Boeing 747 when the opposing team is on offense, but quiets down to an amazing 87 decibels when the Seahawks’ offense takes the field.”
Football fans are not the only ones making noise. In nearly every sports arena, center or field, the fans are known for giving an advantage to the home team. Prior to the Seattle 12th MAN Guinness feat, the record had been set on March 18, 2011, at a whopping 131.76 decibels during a soccer match in the Türk Telekom Arena in Istanbul, Turkey. The attraction to being the loudest is not limited to outdoor sporting events. A packed house in the Sleep Train Arena, home of the Sacramento Kings professional basketball team, broke the Guinness world record for “indoor loudness” on Nov. 15, 2013—first at 119.7 decibels and then, within a few minutes, breaking the record again at 122.6.
Hearing buster
The impact of noise exposure on hearing, including demonstrations of temporary or permanent threshold shifts, have been reported throughout the literature for decades (see sources). Most recently, Jerry Punch and colleagues reviewed the literature on patterns and risks of the personal listening device in young people in the June 2011 American Journal of Audiology. They state that it is “well established” that permanent noise-induced hearing loss can result from exposure to any sound that is sufficient in intensity and duration. The damage is typically to the inner ear. And the damage is largely preventable.
In fact, the researchers concluded that exposure to excessive levels of noise is the leading preventable cause of sensorineural hearing loss. In spite of these findings, fans are subjected to and experiencing unbelievable levels of noise that may have temporary or permanent impact. Any sign of hearing symptoms after the game should prompt an affected person to see an audiologist and otolaryngologist without delay.
We know this research. We know the impact. What do we do? Where do we begin, without coming across like a wet blanket on the most amazing ride of community and camaraderie! Common sense would dictate that people should know—that they ought to realize what they are doing. It is essential that we know the ways in which noisy environments pose risks to our health, and that we identify strategies and tools to minimize long-term impact (see the May 2013 Leader for an in-depth look at these issues.
Save our ears
One of our most effective tools is earplugs, which are relatively cheap and accessible. I would like to believe that, with today’s customized ear molds available in affordable, fun and flashy colors, we can begin to turn ear protection into “earbud poppers”— protection that you pop in your ears whenever and wherever you need them to help minimize the impact of noise on your hair cells. Imagine a football fan decked out from head to toe in team color gear—including a pair of swirl-colored custom ear protection.
In spite of a relative public awareness that loud sound can have harmful effect on hearing, a remarkably low percentage of individuals report using protection. Why not launch a campaign to protect the “12th Family”? I’d like to see special teams of audiologists and speech-language pathologists partnering with professional sports teams, organizations and fan groups to build awareness of noise damage to hearing and the need for protection. Across the literature, prevention is repeatedly emphasized as the most effective course of action. An assertive campaign on noise awareness, prevention education and policy advocacy, along with continued investigation of epidemiological data and high risk factors, are warranted.
I’d like to see a sporting event where fans show up with glitzy ear protection in hand, where commercial announcements feature messages like, “Protect your ears, so you can hear the post-game stats” or “Keep your 12th MAN Family in the game—pop in your ear protection!”
This summer, the Seahawks ads again began to surface, pushing the hashtag #LOUD. The “Legion of Boom” and the energy of the 12th MAN are on the move again. A July 2014 post on the Broncos’ fan page read, “Can us fans/Broncos arrange a ‘loudest crowd roar’/stadium record attempt??” Is this a hint of things to come, perhaps the sign of a tsunami on the horizon, starting locally with far-reaching and potentially life-altering impact?
I need to be prepared. We need to be prepared—with a clear message and readily accessible tools regarding noise exposure and healthy living. We can’t sit on the bench and wait for the wave of future patients to show up at the clinic door after the game. This is about keeping people in the game of life—giving them the chance to hear and be heard long after the season is over.

ASHA, Hear to Help

Check out ASHA’s website for links to articles, presentations and resources on preventing hearing loss, including:

  • Listen to Your Buds, ASHA’s public education campaign to prevent noise-induced hearing loss by helping parents teach their children how to use personal audio technology safely: www.asha.org/buds.

  • Practical information and resources for promoting hearing health across the lifespan: on.asha.org/hl-prevention.

  • Special Interest Group 8, Public Health Issues Related to Hearing and Balance: www.asha.org/SIG/08.

For more information, visit www.ashfoundation.org.

Sources
England, B. & and Larsen, J. B. (2014). Noise levels among spectators at an intercollegiate sporting event. American Journal of Audiology, 23, 71–78. [Article] [PubMed]
England, B. & and Larsen, J. B. (2014). Noise levels among spectators at an intercollegiate sporting event. American Journal of Audiology, 23, 71–78. [Article] [PubMed]×
Gupta, N. (2014). Assessment of knowledge of harmful effects and exposure to recreational music in college students of Delhi: A cross-sectional exploratory study. Indian Journal of Otolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery, 66(3), 254–259. [Article]
Gupta, N. (2014). Assessment of knowledge of harmful effects and exposure to recreational music in college students of Delhi: A cross-sectional exploratory study. Indian Journal of Otolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery, 66(3), 254–259. [Article] ×
Ivory, R.,Kane, R. & Diaz, R. C. (2014). Noise-induced hearing loss: A recreational noise perspective. Current Opinion in Otolaryngology & Head and Neck Surgery. Published ahead of print. [PubMed]
Ivory, R.,Kane, R. & Diaz, R. C. (2014). Noise-induced hearing loss: A recreational noise perspective. Current Opinion in Otolaryngology & Head and Neck Surgery. Published ahead of print. [PubMed]×
McGrath, T., Porges, S., Bryant, K. & Crone, C. (2006). Is life too loud? Men’s Health, 21(2), 106–146.
McGrath, T., Porges, S., Bryant, K. & Crone, C. (2006). Is life too loud? Men’s Health, 21(2), 106–146.×
Planet of Sound (2013). The ASHA Leader, 18, 34–43. [Article]
Planet of Sound (2013). The ASHA Leader, 18, 34–43. [Article]×
Punch, J. L., Elfenbein, J. L. & James, R. R. (2011). Targeting hearing health messages for users of personal listening devices. American Journal of Audiology, 20, 69–82. [Article] and [PubMed] [Article]
Punch, J. L., Elfenbein, J. L. & James, R. R. (2011). Targeting hearing health messages for users of personal listening devices. American Journal of Audiology, 20, 69–82. [Article] and [PubMed] [Article] ×
Rabinowitz, P. M. (2000). Noise-induced hearing loss. American Family Physician, 61(9), 2749–2756.
Rabinowitz, P. M. (2000). Noise-induced hearing loss. American Family Physician, 61(9), 2749–2756.×
Sareen, A. & Vishwambhar, S. (2014). Noise induced hearing loss: A review. Otolaryngology Online Journal, 4(2), 17–25.
Sareen, A. & Vishwambhar, S. (2014). Noise induced hearing loss: A review. Otolaryngology Online Journal, 4(2), 17–25.×
1 Comment
October 6, 2014
Nancy Alarcon
Division Correction
The Seahawks were added to the AFC West in 1977 after spending their expansion season in the NFC West. They moved back to the NFC West in 2002.
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