The World Cup may have kicked off in South Africa, but national charity Deafness Research UK is adding its voice to the warnings the competition could also score an own goal - with football fans risking permanent noise induced hearing loss, thanks to the constant use of Vuvuzela horns.
These horns can emit sound anywhere between 127 and 130 decibels (db) - a lot louder than a jet taking off and the concern is this level of noise is being omitted constantly and all less that a few feet away from people's ears. Those who have dared to raise concerns have already been branded "killjoys"2 or accused of interfering with South African culture, but warnings could literally be falling on deaf ears if nothing is done. With the horns set to become next season's 'must have' football accessory in the UK, there is an urgent need to raise public awareness of the risks they pose.
Vivienne Michael, Chief Executive of Deafness Research UK, said: "No one wants to spoil the fun, but many people attending the matches in South Africa will be unaware of the risks they are taking with their hearing. We believe it is common sense that fans should be made aware of the dangers."
Noise induced hearing loss causes real human misery, which charities like Deafness Research UK are working to prevent every day. Extended exposure to noise at just 85 decibels is enough to risk irreversible hearing damage. At 130 decibels, it's possible that some people are going to come away from this world cup with the sound of silence rather than the sound of victory ringing in their ears."
Many people do not realise there is a considerable difference between, say 80 and 85 decibels. As a basic guide, 25 db is a whisper, 45-60 db is normal speaking, 80 db is traffic noise, 95 db is the standard sound of power tools, 120 db is a jet taking off and 130 db sees the onset of physical pain in the ears. To put the Vuvuzela into context, 91 db is considered safe for perhaps a few hours, while anything over 120 db can see permanent damage set in after just a few seconds of exposure.
"Our advice to people would be to invest in some earplugs," continued Vivienne. They are cheap, freely available and could literally save your hearing. "If you have already come away from a game with ringing in your ears, this is a sign of damage. People often ask how they can tell what the noise level is and as a rough guide, if you are at the game and can't carry on a conversation with someone next to you, if you have to shout to make yourself heard - then clearly you are in an environment with noise levels greater than 85 decibels."
Deafness Research UK is advising people to check with their GP on their return from the World Cup to ensure that no lasting damage has been done. If people are going to the odd game, or are only experiencing short term exposure (e.g. a few hours) to noise between 80-85 db, they should be fine, but those attending many games with higher noise levels may have more cause for concern.
While FIFA chief Sepp Blatter has defended the horn as part of South African football culture, the constant noise it produces has come in for criticism from footballers, commentators and fans alike1 and amid fears about hearing loss, concerns have been raised that people may miss important announcements (perhaps in the event of an emergency) or that the horns could potentially act as a vector for spreading colds and flu on a far greater scale than coughing or shouting. If this horn could become a common sight in the UK next year, Deafness Research UK has some clear advice:
"Rather than call for the horns to be banned, our suggestion would be to limit the level of sound they can produce to a safer level," suggested Vivienne. "Our calls to introduce this for MP3 players [www.deafnessresearch.org.uk] is now being heeded and it seems that some horn manufacturers are also answering the call and producing horns with a modified mouthpiece to bring the volume down by as much as 20db. But until the position is clearer, we advise people to take ear plugs along to the next game."
For information on deafness and deafness-related conditions e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Deafness Research UK's website at www.deafnessresearch.org.uk