Is football fever giving your ears the boot?

Football fever has masses glued to their TV, computer and cellphone screens. This is an enormous event, loved by football fans across the globe. I must admit, the passion rubs off onto an individual like myself, who is not your average football fanatic. This year, Russia has the privilege of hosting the football World Cup. Football enthusiasts all across the world have geared up to watch the beautiful game live in Russia. Reports claim that bookings made to Russia increased by more than 60% compared to the same period last year.

The football fever had my mind drifting back to the year 2010. A time when the World Cup was hosted on the African continent for the first time in history! People flooded South Africa to witness this historic event. Little did they know the greeting that awaited them. A distinctive African sporting spectacle, uniquely characterized by sounds produced by soccer fans blowing what is known as a vuvuzela. I am certain most readers are familiar with it. But for those who aren’t, a vuvuzela is a trumpet-like plastic instrument that when blown, produces a loud reverberant sound during soccer matches. This sound is heard all around the stadium, even when played at one specific point.

Multiple reports have shown that the sound produced by a vuvuzela reaches a dangerously high level of between 120 dB (A) and 131 dB (A). To put those values into context, a vuvuzela is as loud as thunder, a live rock concert or even a jet engine taking off. Various literature indicates that exposure to sounds or noise equating to or more than 80 dB (A) for a longer duration causes a negative change in hearing thresholds. This change could be a temporary one (known as temporary threshold shift) or a permanent one (known as permanent threshold shift) as a result of repeated exposure over long periods of time. The sound values produced by a vuvuzela exceed international directives on exposure limits in occupational settings. As a result, prolonged and regular exposure to such noise levels may pose a significant risk for noise-induced hearing loss.

Back to football. In 2009, the international football community started taking notice of the vuvuzela. This led to complaints from international teams regarding the intrusive nature and severe loudness of the instrument. Despite the complaints, South Africa was approved as the host for the 2010 World Cup – the first to be held on African soil, what a signature move.

Recreational activities with excessive loud sounds, like that of attending a live football match, may result in a permanent sensorineural hearing loss. South African Audiology institutions took it upon themselves to investigate the dangers of such noise levels on the football spectators hearing. To collect this data, pre and post exposure hearing assessments were conducted on recruited spectators. The spectators were exposed for a period of two hours, by attending a football match at a South African stadium with vuvuzela’s being blown all around. Results from the studies demonstrated post-match hearing deterioration, with a much significant hearing loss for spectators who blew vuvuzelas themselves. This information demonstrates a real risk for noise-induced hearing loss.

It is very unlikely that there will be a lot of vuvuzelas at the World Cup 2018 tournament hosted in Russia. However, the vuvuzela isn’t the only culprit that can cause harm to one’s hearing during a football match. A study in 2013 showed that even the whistle used among referees may be a contributing factor to hearing loss. The sound levels produced by a whistle range between 104 and 116 dB (A). That is alarmingly high, and may lead to irreversible auditory damage.

Our ears are exposed to damaging noise levels when at a concert surrounded by cheering fans and speakers, or even while at home, with people often increasing the volume on their television to create an atmosphere and enjoy football from the comfort of their couch. I am a culprit of this as well. I mean, who wouldn’t pump up the volume during the match between England and Tunisia 2018? Did you see Ferjani Sassi’s 35’ (P) goal? And time stood still.

Nevertheless, it is advisable that we protect our ears at all times. Life is beautiful – we should enjoy it. However, some recreational activities that we enjoy the most may harm our hearing, and this may be a permanent loss. World Cup fans who are lucky enough to attend live games should take extra care of their hearing status, by taking earplugs along. These fit-all earplugs can be bought at most pharmacies at a very reasonable price.

The above said also applies to us at home, those attending live concerts, and those who enjoy hitting the streets and going clubbing every now and again.

Noise-induced hearing loss may cause permanent damage to your auditory system. Prevention is key! You can still enjoy your favourite pastimes while minimizing or completely eliminating the risks it could pose to your hearing.