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This updated article was initially published on 4/11/18 on

Nothing motivates like sport does. It unites players and spectators the world over. Few would dispute that noise plays a vital part in that, adding a sense of thrill and participation between the fans and the players. Certain sports are inherently noisy while others take place in crowded arenas where excess noise can lead to a range of repercussions, from discomfort and pain to psychologic harm and long term hearing loss.

The ambient noise inside most stadiums hovers above 85dB(A), with frequent deafening outbursts in response to the flow of the contest. Controversy over noise surrounds many venues, such as Adelaide oval where the average peak volume is regularly over 120dB(A). This has led to incidents where crowd noise drowned out the siren causing players to ignore it and play on. As a consequence, the siren volume has been raised, adding even more noise to our country’s loudest stadium.

The present world record for loudest crowd noise was broken in 2017 at the Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas, reaching an ear shattering 142.2dB(A) – louder than a jet engine from 30m away. Incredibly, this does little to hinder the crowd’s enthusiasm; quite the opposite in fact. Fans either choose to ignore the dangers or are largely ignorant of them.

Our modern corporate driven culture actively encourages these conditions at the expense of personal wellbeing. Stadiums sometimes boast record noise levels to inflate the crowd’s anticipation. The Century Link Field stadium in Seattle was specifically designed to amplify noise. With its seating bowl shape and big-roof parabolas refocussing the cheering back towards the centre, it’s no wonder the home of the Seattle Seahawks held the record for the loudest match until 2017. This tactic has enabled the home team to achieve higher winning percentages and be awarded more false-start penalties as a result.

A fired up crowd creates a genuine home-side advantage for the local team. Cheers of support do wonders for their morale and performance, while angry yells and foot stomping cause poor decisions, missed opportunities and penalties against the opposition. Both sides tend to suffer disruption to verbal communication between the players and their coaches. Referees too are prone to cognitive anxiety and stress from the crowd, putting strain on their ability to remain impartial. All three elements, players, fans and referees are part of a dynamic feedback loop generated as the roaring crowd respond to game play which in turn can influence players and referees.

Prolonged exposure to loud noise takes a toll on human physiology. Apart from damage in the form of hearing loss there can be psychologic harm producing hypertension (increased blood pressure), tachycardia (increased heart rate), increased cortisol release and increased physiologic stress. At sporting events unfortunately it is up to individuals to be aware of the risks and implement their own hearing protection.

Players may be reluctant towards wearing hearing protection as typically these devices tend to be either too cumbersome, ineffective or reduce a player's ability to communicate with their team. Fortunately there are custom engineered earplugs available that are compact and discrete enough to be worn for most sports and provide ample noise reduction.

Coping with noise is an important aspect of sport psychology – a field increasingly integral to modern training programs. Sophisticated tools are being developed to help athletes master the conditions of a real game during practice – systems based on software that produce sound effects on cue to simulate a large game.

Unlike for industrial situations where noise levels can be controlled through regulation and safe practices, sport is not subject to these limitations, nor is there much incentive to do so. If we wish to preserve the hearing health of individuals partaking in sport, society’s best bet is to improve awareness and education about the real impact of noise.

Step 1: Stay informed.

Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is a growing concern. It is an irreversible condition caused by exposure to dangerous noise levels for varying periods of time.

Dangerous noise levels means how much noise, and how long our hearing can withstand it, before being damaged.

In Australia, exposure to levels of noise from 80 to 85 dB and above is cause for concern. Legally, protection must be worn if we are exposed to noise levels of 85 dB for 8 hours.

Fortunately, NIHL is a preventable condition.  Keeping ourselves informed, and sharing our knowledge with colleagues, friends and family, contribute to better practices in our personal and professional lives. 

Stay informed, stay safe and stay healthy!

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