Hearing management

Updated 14 December 2017

Vuvuzelas a hearing hazard

Blowing your vuvuzela may be good for team spirit, but it's bad for your ears.

While is it considered that sounds that are 85dBA or louder can permanently damage your hearing , the call of the vuvuzela can put out as much as 131dBA – putting a sports fanatic, and everyone in his or her immediate vicinity at risk of permanent hearing loss.

"Although more investigations are required, initial findings certainly demonstrate that the vuvuzela exceeds the permissive occupational noise exposure levels in South Africa, and can pose a significant recreational risk of noise-induced hearing loss," reads a report by researchers from the University of Pretoria, who measured the sound levels of a vuvuzela. The report was published in the latest edition of the South African Medical Journal.

Prof De Wet Swanepoel and colleagues write that: "According to the South African National Standard regulating occupational noise exposure in South Africa, no one within a 2-meter radius of a vuvuzela, including the person blowing it, should be exposed to such noise levels continually for more than a minute."

How the study was done

To measure the sound level and frequency spectrum, a calibrated type 1 sound level meter was placed at four distances from the bell of the vuvuzela - the opening where the sound emits. The measurements included a recording at the ear of the person blowing the vuvuzela, and at one and two metre distances from the bell.

The maximum sound output between the two recordings averaged between 113 and 131 decibels - this is equivalent to standing 100m away from the sound a jet makes when taking off.

According to audiologists any loud sound above 85 decibels is regarded as potentially dangerous for the nerve cells of the cochlea in the ear. A period of more than 20 minutes of exposure to excessive sound is potentially damaging to hearing. Prolonged exposure to loud noise can cause headaches, tinnitus (ringing in the ear), and even cause short-term hearing loss.

According to South African occupational noise exposure standards people, should not be exposed to sound intensities like those produced by the Vuvuzela for more than one minute at a time. In South Africa approximately 10% of the population has significant hearing loss.

Spectators risk permanent hearing loss

"These measurements are an important indication of the recreational risk vuvuzelas may pose to spectators. Until investigated further, it can only be assumed that if a single vuvuzela emits a sound that is dangerously loud to those in at least a 2-metre radius, the cumulative effect of numerous vuvuzelas, typically blown together for the duration of a soccer match, may have an additive effect, putting spectators at a significant risk of noise-induced hearing loss."

The report suggests that preventative measures be taken, "such as public awareness and hearing protection… especially in view of the upcoming World Cup."

International communities have raised their concern about the vuvuzela's noise and possible distraction to players during the 2010 Soccer World Cup. However, FIFA has approved the vuvuzela as part of the signature South African World Cup. – (Leandra Engelbrecht and Wilma Stassen/Health24, February 2010)

Source: South African Medical Journal, February 2010, Vol. 100, No.2


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Hearing Expert

Minette Lister graduated with a Bachelor of Communication Pathology (Audiology) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville in 2015. Thereafter, she completed her compulsory year of community service at Phoenix Assessment and Therapy Centre in Durban. In 2017, Minette started working for Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. She is passionate about working with children and adults to diagnose and manage hearing loss using state of the art technology. Minette offers hearing screening programmes for newborn and high-risk babies, as well as school-aged children, in order to decrease the incidence of late or unidentified hearing loss.

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