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Don’t forget those ear-plugs

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South African football fans’ instrument of choice, the vuvuzela, has already caused controversy ahead of the World Cup with authorities concerned that their excessive volume could prevent people from hearing announcements should a stadium need to be evacuated. Now, new tests have shown that the instrument is so loud, they pose a more immediate health risk to fans and players.

The long, plastic, trumpet-shaped vuvuzela was found to emit an ear piercing noise of 127 decibels – louder than a lawnmower (90 dB) and a chainsaw (100 dB). Extended exposure at just 85 decibels puts us at a risk of permanent noise induced hearing loss. When subjected to 100 dB or more, hearing damage can occur in just 15 minutes.

The most popular football fan instruments from across the world were tested in a sound proof studio as part of Hear the World, a global initiative by leading hearing system manufacturer Phonak to raise awareness about the importance of hearing and the consequences of hearing loss.

Second most harmful to our ears was the air-horn, popular with English football fans, which exposes our ears to damage-inducing levels of 123.6 dB. This was followed by the drum, which reached a level of 122 decibels.

Popular with supporters on the stands as well as being used on the pitch, the referee’s whistle was the fourth most harmful to our ears at 121.8 dB, but passionate fans alone can be just as problematic – two singing supporters reached 121.6 dB.

Robert Beiny, UK and European Audiologist of the Year said: “To put it in perspective, when a sound is increased by ten decibels our ears perceive it as being twice as loud, so we would consider the vuvuzela to be more than double the volume of the cowbell.””

– Vuvuzela 127 dB

– Air-horn 123.6 dB

– Samba drum 122.2 dB

– Referee whistle 121.8 dB

– 2 fans singing 121.6 dB

– Gas horn 121.4 dB

– Cowbell 114.9 dB

– Wooden rattle 108.2 dB

– Inflatable Fan-Sticks 99.1 dB

He continues: “”It’s not just while sitting in the stands at a match that hearing damage can happen. Our ears can be exposed to damaging noise levels when in the pub surrounded by excited cheering fans, or even while at home, with people often turning the sound on their television up very loud in order to create an atmosphere when watching from their sofa.

“”My advice to fans would be to enjoy the atmosphere that the World Cup creates, but also to consider their hearing. Give your ears a break from the noisy atmosphere at half time, or if you are one of the lucky ones heading to a live game, remember to take some earplugs along – once the damage is done it is irreversible, so prevention is key.””

Valentin Chapero, Chief Executive of Phonak said: “”Of course the sound of the crowd plays a major part in creating the atmosphere in a football stadium. But people should remember that prolonged exposure to loud noises can have a big impact therefore, it is imperative that we take conscious measures to protect our hearing before it’s too late.””

There are many hearing protection devices available, from formable foam plugs to ear-muffs and banded ear-plugs, but custom-made ear-plugs differ from these in one important respect – they are manufactured individually for the ear canal of their user. From an impression of the ear canal, an ear-plug is manufactured to seal that particular ear canal fully. In some custom-moulded ear-plug products, the sound attenuation is determined by the attenuating action of the integral filter, and can therefore be selected within certain limits according to the noise exposure level.

To locate a hearing health professional in your area, take an online hearing screening and for tips on preventing hearing loss, visit www.hear-the-world.com/za or call the hearing helpline on 0861-10-20-30.

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