Why do so few athletes suffer hearing loss?

Posted on April 8, 2019

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(Last Updated On: April 8, 2019)

It’s a noisy planet tells us,

  • The Kansas City Chiefs stadium has recorded decibel levels as high as 137
  • The 2012 Super Bowl got to 107
  • Some basketball games get to 109

Anybody fairly familiar with sports knows this. Sports involve tons of screaming and other loud sounds (engines, hits, whistles, buzzers, etc.).

And,

“Remember, regular exposure to sounds over 85 dB puts you at risk for permanent hearing loss. Scientists recommend no more than 15 minutes of unprotected exposure to sounds that are 100 dB or louder, and no more than 1 minute of unprotected exposure to sounds at 110 dB or more. If you attend any sports event, whether inside or outside, consider how loud it’s going to be and pack your hearing protection.”

So, where are all the hearing impaired athletes at?

  • There certainly isn’t some common knowledge out there that sports are hard on the ears of athletes
    • It’s not like musicians
  • I don’t find much of anything when searching Google or Google Scholar

I have sensitive ears. I’m the person who always covers their ears when an ambulance goes by. I’ve always been extra cautious with my ears, commonly noticing how rare it is other people act the same way.

I played a lot of sports growing up and played in college. I can’t recall a single teammate ever suffering problems from playing sports.

I went to Oracle arena a couple years back to watch a Warriors playoff game. That arena is known to be loud. I had to wear ear plugs.

The Warriors players are in that arena 50+ times a year. Why are they all fine?

The ability to hear is a huge trait in sports. There is a lot of communicating, hence all the yelling. If any of them had hearing problems, we (the fans) would know about it.

Exercise helps your hearing???

Something I’ve written about is name an ailment and exercise probably helps it. It’s the most incredible medicine we have.

The University of Florida has found exercise can help prevent hearing loss (in mice).

That paper also notes -in humans- how it’s common for those with dementia to have hearing problems, as well as those who are in poor physical condition, and how traits like faster walking speeds in older people are associated with better hearing.

I’ve noticed that myself with my clients, albeit with a very small sample size. I’ve also noticed those with hearing problems have balance issues. To the point I’ve wondered if improving someone’s balance could improve their hearing.

Invariably when it’s found exercise helps an ailment like this, researchers go digging for biochemical factors. Fair enough. There is often merit there.

With hearing, we have capillaries which carry nutrients within the ears. Exercise is known to help capillaries. Possible cause and effect?

-> More details in the full Florida paper

But I find the mechanical explanations to be just as enticing. Sound is all about vibration. What does running do to your body? Vibrate the hell out of it.

-> An interesting experiment to do on yourself: while walking, with your index fingers, cover your ears like you were trying to block a loud sound. You’ll almost assuredly feel an incredible amount of vibration with each landing of your foot.

We know loud sound can be damaging, does exercise do something to offset that damage? Similar to any musculoskeletal injury, can exercise act as a rehab device from damage?

In many football games you’ll see the crowd is so loud the visiting team can’t even hear each other speak. They have to use silent counts, hand signals, etc. In many concerts, the crowd is louder than the act e.g. you can hear the crowd singing more than the artist. In other words, never mind the sound system, the crowds themselves are plenty loud enough!

I’d bet a fair amount the focus on physical fitness for athletes is one reason they’re so much better off than the musicians / rock concert fans.

-> While we’re at it, why don’t athletes suffer more vocal cord problems? Are musicians using their throats that much more than say, quarterbacks?

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