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Score a (Hearing) Safety this Football Season


Football season is finally here! You may be wondering what linkage could possibly be made between the gridiron and hearing health. In this week’s blog post, we’ll review three significant connections.

An historic link between football and hearing loss

Did you know that the huddle came about because of a deaf player? Paul D. Hubbard played for Gallaudet University, the first U.S. school offering advanced education to deaf and hard of hearing students, in 1982. The huddle allowed Hubbard to use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with his teammates in such a way the other team couldn’t figure out his plays.

Today, many teams continue to use visual cues and hand signals on the field, in and out of huddles. Several teams at the college and professional levels also have players with varying degrees of hearing loss on their rosters (e.g., Siemens hearing aid wearer Reed Doughty).

Play at your own risk

Everyone knows by now that football can leave players with long-term or permanent physical impairments. Retired players have shared numerous stories of joint damage, brain injuries, and other ailments traceable to their game days. One survey found that 9 out of 10 former players sustained a concussion during their careers, and many experienced two or more. Concussions have been linked to hearing loss and tinnitus (the irritating “phantom” ringing, buzzing, or hissing sound in the ears with no external source).

Repeated blows to the head can cause damage to the nerves that connect the inner ear to your brain, or rattle the cochlea so hard that the hair cells used to transmit sound to your brain can be destroyed. As for tinnitus, head and jaw (TMJ) injuries and neck injuries like whiplash have been associated with triggering this oft-debilitating condition. While hearing aids can be used to treat tinnitus, there is no cure.

As is often the case, the best option for players who want to retain their hearing health is to take all available safety precautions while playing. Wear regulation helmets, get checked out by a doctor immediately following any hard hit, and follow medical advice as to when it is safe to return to play following an injury.

Football fans need protection, too

Even if your football experience is confined to the stands, you may be at risk of hearing damage due to the excessive noise levels achieved at many stadiums. Crowd noise averages around 85 decibels (dB) ―the threshold at which irreversible hearing loss is possible if exposure continues for 7-8 hours. At some games, noise levels have been clocked at closer to 100+ dB, at which point damage can result within a single hour of exposure. Use of custom hearing protection, earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones can cut your risk of hearing loss and/or tinnitus significantly. So the next time you hit the stadium (and especially if you are bringing your child) make sure you include hearing protection as part of your game day gear.

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