At the 2010 World Cup, the South African football fans’ instrument of choice was the vuvuzela horn, which caused controversy before the World Cup even began. The horn concerned authorities, because their excessive volume could have prevented people from hearing important announcements, for example if one of the stadiums had needed to be evacuated. Now, new testing has shown that the vuvuzela horn is so loud that they pose a more immediate health risk to fans as well as players, according to Hear the World, a global initiative by Phonak.
The vuvuzela, a long, plastic, trumpet-shaped horn was found to emit an ear-piercing noise of 127 decibels. This means that the vuvuzela is actually louder than both a lawnmower (90 decibels) and a chainsaw (100 decibels).
Extended exposure at just 85 decibels puts people at a risk of permanent noise-induced hearing loss, and when subjected to a sound of 100 decibels or more, hearing damage can occur in a matter of only 15 minutes, says Phonak.
Hear the World tested the most popular football fan instruments from around the world inside a sound-proof studio. The testing found that besides the vuvuzela horn, the second most harmful to the ears was the air-horn, popular with English football fans, which exposes peoples’ ears to damage-inducing levels of 123.6 decibels. This was followed by the drum, which reached a level of 122 decibels. Also popular with supporters in the stands, as well as being used on the pitch, the referee’s whistle was the fourth most harmful to the ears at 121.8 decibels.
“To put it in perspective, when a sound is increased by 10 decibels our ears perceive it as being twice as loud, so we would consider the vuvuzela to be more than double the volume of the cowbell (114.9 dB) ,” said in a statement by world renowned Audiologist Robert Beiny.
“It’s not just while sitting in the stands at a match that hearing damage can happen,” Beiny said. “Our ears can be exposed to damaging noise levels when in the pub surrounded by excited cheering fans, or even while at home, with people often turning the sound on their television up very loud in order to create an atmosphere when watching from their sofa.
“My advice to fans would be to enjoy the atmosphere that the World Cup creates, but also to consider their hearing,” he added. “Why not give their ears a break from the noisy atmosphere at half time, or if they are one of the lucky ones heading to South Africa, remember to pack some earplugs – once the damage is done it is irreversible – so prevention is key.”
Valentin Chapero, chief executive of Phonak, commented that “Of course the sound of the crowd plays a major part in creating the atmosphere in a football stadium. But people should remember that prolonged exposure to loud noises can have a big impact and therefore it is imperative that we take conscious measures to protect our hearing before it’s too late.”