Working as a sports official, or referee, is a noisy job. In fact, a recent study suggests that referees who use whistles are more likely to suffer from symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss compared to people in a similar age group in the general population. Whistles commonly used by referees can be as loud as 106 decibels, and science tells us that regular exposure, even briefly, to sounds above 85 decibels can lead to permanent hearing loss. Nearly half of the referees who participated in the survey reported ringing in their ears after a game, which is a symptom of damage to sensitive inner ear sensory cells that can lead to noise-induced hearing loss. The findings were published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.
Gordon B. Hughes, M.D., program director for clinical trials at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders at the National Institutes of Health, has first-person experience of the perils of loud whistles acting as a referee at club soccer matches. “Everyone on the field needs to hear the whistle, so I would blow it hard,” says Dr. Hughes. “No matter how brief the sound was, it would hurt my ears every time. That’s a warning that the sound is too loud and potentially harmful.”
So what can referees do to protect their hearing? Dr. Hughes suggests using “vented” ear molds. “They are custom-fitted to the ear canal and reduce sound by up to 25 decibels,” he says. “That reduction will let referees perform their duty while protecting their ears all day.”
Whistles aren’t the only things making loud noises at sporting events, however. Cheering fans, marching bands, or other signaling devices such as starter pistols, add to the cacophony. So, whether you’re a professional referee or a spectator, think about wearing hearing protectors to save yourself from hearing damage.
What do you do to protect your hearing? Molded vented plugs do work so you can enjoy the noise and excitment as well as protect your hearing. It is a Win Win!