Don’t forget your ear plugs! Why? Because stadium noise is deafening and, unbelievably, encouraged. The Kansas City Chiefs, for example, actively encourages stadium noise at Arrowhead Stadium, which the franchise boasts is the “loudest in the league.” In 2013, a “record-setting attempt was planned by Chiefs fans but had support of the organization, which paid $7,500 to fly an adjudicator from Guinness to Kansas City to document the effort.” They “won” with a record-breaking 137.5 decibels. And then they did it again in 2014, this time reaching a punishing 142.2 decibels. On purpose. Because a lot was at stake: Kansas City Chiefs had to best the Seahawks’ loudest stadium record. Yes, team fans compete for the glory of having the world’s loudest stadium.
While the various franchises brag about whose fans are the loudest, at least some people recognize that being the ‘world’s loudest stadium’ is a bad idea. NBC News, reporting on the record attempt, reached out to experts to address the obvious–for some–concern about the effects of extreme noise on hearing:
What [the record-breaking attempt] is most certainly doing is damaging the hearing of every person in attendance. People don’t recognize how much damage they can do to their hearing, says Alison Grimes, an assistant clinical professor of head/neck surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, and director of audiology at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
“People will say, ‘Oh, it was just for 10 minutes,’” Grimes says. “And what I tell my patients is that noise is cumulative over the lifetime. Each time you use a chain saw or ride a motorcycle or go to a stadium to make the sound meter reach the top, it accumulates.”
While the NBC News piece sensibly suggested that fans attending the game purchase over-the-counter ear plugs, it’s likely that most of the fans who were present for this misguided attempt at glory were not protected. Does that matter? Will there be long-term consequences for this lapse in judgment? Sadly, yes. As Dr. Grimes noted:
“If you’re literally talking about 130 decibels – nobody should ever be exposed to that,” Grimes said. “There isn’t a safe amount of time for 130 decibels. It’s physically painful as well as acoustically damaging.”
Remember, “hair cells in your ear don’t grow back. There is no Rogaine for your inner ear,” warns Grimes. “While hearing aids work really well, there is no substitute for natural hearing.”
Daniel Fink, M.D., a noise pollution activist in the Los Angeles area, believes that the Kansas City organizers missed a golden opportunity to obtain recognition of another world record. Noting that the record 142.2 dB roar exceeded the Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s (OSHA) maximum Permissible Noise Exposure of 140 dB, he suggested that the organizers should have submitted the event for a second world record: the most people whose hearing was permanently damaged at one time (about 80,000 in attendance).*
So skip the stadium and watch the Super Bowl at home. Your ears will thank you for it.
*Dr. Fink adds that while there is no law protecting the public from the dangers of loud noise, workers have legal protection provided by OSHA. On the day of the world record event, stadium employees and players and staff of two NFL teams were exposed to noise exceeding the maximum allowable workplace noise exposure level. Dr. Fink filed a complaint with OSHA but was informed that the statutory limit for reporting a workplace safety violation had passed.