Hearing Protection for Referees

ice-hockey-263023_640A few years ago, the sound level of professional sports was mentioned in mainstream media. The vuvuzela, a long, plastic, trumpet-shaped horn, was the noisemaker of choice for fans at the World Cup. Thousands of ecstatic fans we’re cheering together and creating an eardrum aching 127 decibels each, almost 30% louder than a chainsaw. At this sound level, hearing damage occurs within 15 minutes. Imagine sitting next to the loudest chainsaw you’ve ever heard for 3 hours!

Last week, we warned Avalanche fans of the dangers of noise induced hearing loss, especially during the playoffs. Spectators need protection, but officials are also at risk. According to a recent study on hearing loss in sports officials:

“Male sports officials registered in Michigan had a greater prevalence of self-reported hearing trouble and tinnitus than observed in the general population of the midwestern United States…These findings suggest that whistle use may contribute to hearing loss among sports officials.”

The story was even covered by the New York Times:

“As a basketball referee in his spare time, Nathan Williams, co-author of the study with Gregory Flamme and a basketball referee in his spare time, thought the whistles were unnecessarily loud. At one all-day high school tournament, he wore a dosimeter that measured his noise exposure. The tournament “maxed out the device,” Williams said.

In conversation, his fellow officials joked about their hearing loss, sometimes known as referee’s ear.”

A term used among sports officials to characterize temporary ringing in the ear caused by being in the gym or on the field, referee’s ear is common after a long day of officiating. Those who officiate sports with more whistle use experience greater hearing loss. Volleyball referees in particular receive the brunt of the noise.

Custom Hearing Protection for Referees

The good news with noise induced hearing loss is that if you block the noise, you don’t have to worry about hearing loss as much. Foam earplugs can block the harmful noise, but they will probably also block important sounds within the game. Coaches on opposing teams might call their calls into question.

Since referees make a living off of their officiating with a whistle, visiting an audiologist for a hearing test to receive custom hearing protection can be the difference between needing a hearing aid or not. Custom hearing protection solutions can block specific frequencies of noise. That means referees can still hear the noises of the game they need to hear while blocking the brunt of their whistles.

Referees and anyone who has an occupation that exposes them to excessive noise that leaves their ears ringing should visit an audiologist for a hearing evaluation. Despite years of noise exposure, all is not lost. What hearing remains can be protected and preserved so that work can continue as normal without the assistance of a hearing aid.


Not a New Problem

Professional sports had a sound problem long before vuvuzelas became popular. Air horns (123.6 decibels), drums (122 decibels) and referees’ whistles (121.8 decibels) have always filled  stadiums.

In Canada, where Hockey reigns supreme, they’ve understood the problem of noise because hockey arenas are particularly loud. Here in Vail Valley, our Avalanche games are no different, especially since they are currently in the playoffs. After a goal in an NHL playoff game, the noise in the stands can be as loud as an airplane taking off.

What You can do About It

If you are spending thousands of dollars a year to be in a super loud arena for hours on end, the time and money required for professional hearing protection will be more than worth it. For season ticket holders, visiting an audiologist for professional hearing protection would probably be a good idea. You might be able to save yourself from having to buy a hearing aid before you turn 40.

The average fan who attends a few big events a year could get away with the regular foam earplugs that you can pick up at a nearby convenience store. Many earplugs list an NRR rating ranging from 21 to 33, which means they will block a maximum of 21 to 33 decibels, respectively. In real world scenarios, the likely maximum noise blocked will be about half of that rating, so go for more protection instead of less.

If you would like to know more about professional hearing protection, give us a call today so that you can enjoy spectating well into old age.